Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Sergey Romanovsky to navigate at Rallye TT Cuenca

Nearly a decade after losing his right leg in combat, former Ukrainian paratrooper Sergey Romanovsky will call the shots for Vadim Pritulyak at the Rallye TT Cuenca in Spain on 20/21 October.

Captain Romanovsky was a platoon commander with the 80th Air Assault Brigade when the Russo-Ukrainian War began in 2014. During the fall, his unit was fighting pro-Russian forces along the Siverskyi Donets River when his right leg was pinned between two armoured personnel carriers, one of which he was riding atop; in a 2017 special for Viva! Magazine, he recalled feeling a sudden shock of pain before noticing the wounded limb dangling from its skin. He was transported from Shchastia to Severodonetsk followed by airlift to Kharkiv, where he underwent five operations in the intensive care unit, before being transported to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Twenty more operations to save the leg took place over seventeen days in Kyiv’s Central Military Hospital before life-threatening blood loss from a ruptured artery forced it to be amputated.

Despite losing the leg, Romanovsky continued to stay in shape by doing pull-ups on a metal bar attached to his hospital bed. After his discharge, he began running and triathlon training with a prosthetic leg, with his ultimate goal being to compete in the Paralympic Games. In 2016, he took part in the 22 Pushup Challenge, a global campaign of doing twenty-two pushups over twenty-two days to raise awareness for veteran suicide. Romanovsky received an Austrian-developed sports prosthesis from boxing legend and current Mayor of Kyiv Wladimir Klitschko in 2017, and the two often jogged together in preparation for that year’s Kyiv Marathon.

He has helped organise the Games Heroes, a multi-sport competition for military personnel with disabilities, since 2016. In 2021, Romanovsky and fellow ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation, the term for Ukrainian military actions in Russian-occupied territory) veterans Volodymyr Voropai and Igor Zastavnyy successfully climbed Mount Kazbek, one of the highest peaks in the Caucasus Mountains.

Now, the captain faces a new challenge. The opportunity to run the Rallye TT Cuenca arose when the inclusivity committee of the Real Federación Española de Automovilismo extended an invitation to wounded Ukrainian troops to participate in the ParaBaja category as co-drivers; ParaBaja Step by Step is a non-competition class for people with reduced mobility, celebrating their participation regardless of where they finished. Pritulyak, a former Dakar Rally rider, is bringing two SKARLAT XTRM side-by-side vehicles to the rally; the SKARLAT Raptor 1000 is used by the Armed Forces of Ukraine to evacuate injured soldiers.

Sport is a popular avenue for soldiers reintegrating into civilian life, especially among those dealing with traumas like PTSD or physical injuries, and this has become especially imperative for the AFU as they continue to defend their country from full-scale Russian invasion. Those like Pritulyak and ex-Dakar Rally navigator Vitaliy Yevtyekhov have expressed interest in expanding the co-driver programme to other rallies in Europe and across Ukraine, the latter going as far as to envision a team of wounded AFU veterans taking on Dakar someday. Such an idea was previously attempted and achieved by Race2Recovery, a team of British and American troops injured in Afghanistan who completed the 2013 and 2014 Dakars.

The Rallye TT Cuenca is the final round of the Spanish Cross-Country Rally Championship.