KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Around 2,000 Ukrainians ran a one-kilometer race on Sunday in Kyiv, wearing bibs displaying the name of a person instead of a number.
Each runner chose one person to whom they dedicated their run. Spouses, children, friends, siblings, neighbors, and colleagues ran for someone they knew who either was killed, taken captive or injured during Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
The crowd cheered the runners, and many in the audience wept while waiting for participants at the finish line. Amid the lively backdrop of Ukrainian songs, joy and sorrow intermingled in the air as life carried on despite the war.
The organizers of the run called it the “World’s Longest Marathon” — “because no race has lasted as long as Ukraine has been fighting for its freedom.”
Around 13,000 people across the world registered for the event. Those competing remotely could run any distance they wanted and were encouraged to post about it on social media.
The race was hosted by Nova Post, Ukraine’s most prominent private delivery company, with the dual purpose of honoring the defenders and raising funds to bolster Ukraine’s air defense system.
“We want to thank and support our defenders, doctors, rescuers, sappers, and volunteers — all the strong and resilient marathoners who do not stop even for a moment for the sake of each of us,” said the project description.
Nova Post has delivered starter kits to 65 countries across all continents, said Inna Popereshniuk, co-founder of Nova Post. She dedicated her race to six colleagues who were killed and 17 injured in a Russian attack on the Nova Post depot in the Kharkiv region on Oct. 21.
Volodymyr Rutkovskyi, a 31-year-old veteran, completed the course walking. In mid-June, he sustained a severe injury when a Russian projectile struck his right leg during Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the Zaporizhzhia region.
After months of rehabilitation, he now uses a prosthetic limb and participated in the event to pay tribute to two fallen comrades, Zheka and Tykhyi, who were killed in eastern Ukraine.
“They did a lot for our country, and sadly, they could have done much more if they were alive,” he said. “But their struggle continues. We will do everything for them and in their honor.”
He crossed the finishing line with his gaze obscured by the low brim of a black Panama hat. He sported running shorts, which revealed his prosthetic leg.
“I don’t really have words to describe what I’m feeling,” he said. “Many of our comrades won’t be ever alive, and I won’t be able to shake their hand or sit down with them.”
But while taking part, he reminded himself that the memory of them remains for a lifetime. “And we need to carry their cross, just as we do our own,” Rutkovskyi added.
Some people came from other cities to the capital to participate in the race. 24-year-old Tetiana Boiko came to Kyiv from the western Ternopil region.
“This is a token of gratitude to everyone who defends and has defended our country. I believe it shows that we are not indifferent to what is happening right now,” she explained.
Her bib bore the name of Volodymyr Semanyshyn, a young man from her hometown who sustained injuries while attaching an explosive device to a drone, resulting in a sudden detonation that left him without arms.
“There are many young men from my town who are worth running for in this race,” said Boiko. “However, I believe he needs this support now. I would like to convey this message to all compassionate people so that they join in fundraising”.
Boiko tries to draw attention to Semanyshyn’s case because he has only elderly parents who can’t afford to cover the expensive rehabilitation that he needs.
She had longed to participate in a marathon, and this was the race she finally mustered the courage to enter.
“And it turned out that my first ‘marathon’ became truly special,” she said. “It demonstrates our compassion, and it’s the least we can do.”
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