Ukrainian Paralympian escapes Russian-held city to safety

Ukrainian Paralympian escapes Russian-held city to safety
Ukrainian paralympian and world champion powerlifter Raisa Toporkova, 36, from Enerhodar, looks on during an interview with AFP in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 01 April 2022

Ukrainian Paralympian escapes Russian-held city to safety

Ukrainian Paralympian escapes Russian-held city to safety
  • Crammed into a car with several others with special needs, Toporkova spent 12 hours negotiating a series of checkpoints to flee the city in southern Ukraine
  • "It would be impossible to get out of the car if something happened," Toporkova, who was fifth at last year year's Tokyo Paralympics, told AFP

ZAPORIZHZHIA: With her wheelchair perched on her lap, Ukrainian world champion powerlifter Raisa Toporkova escaped with friends from the occupied city of Enerhodar where Russian forces were shelling Europe’s largest nuclear power facility.
They had lost their homes, but not their sense of humor.
“If the Russians came after us, at least we have our sticks to defend ourselves,” joked Yevhenii Razikov, who has cerebral palsy and shared the perilous journey to safety.
Crammed into a car with several others with special needs, Toporkova spent 12 hours negotiating a series of checkpoints to flee the city in southern Ukraine.
“It would be impossible to get out of the car if something happened,” Toporkova, who was fifth at last year year’s Tokyo Paralympics, told AFP in the regional capital Zaporizhzhia.
“My wheelchair was on me and two of the others need a stick to walk.”
More than 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes since Russia invaded on February 24, but for people with disabilities, the often long and difficult journey can be an almost impossible undertaking.
Russian troops shelled Enerhodar, the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, in early March, causing a fire, which was eventually put out.
The attack led to international outrage with memories still fresh of the 1986 explosion at Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear reactor, the world’s worst nuclear accident.
Toporkova, who has been in a wheelchair for most of her life due to a musculoskeletal growth disorder, said the situation was deteriorating fast in Enerhodar after a month under Russian control.
She was barely able to go out and her first-floor home had no basement to take shelter from the many explosions.
Food supplies were running low and prices had risen by as much as four times. Pharmacies were out of vital prescription medicines.
Another uptick in violence at the nuclear plant could mean a lethal radiation leak.
Worried that the opportunity to leave could close, Toporkova fled on Monday with husband Anton Vavryshchuk, 37, who is also physically disabled.
They were joined by their friends, Razikov and his wife, who did not want to be identified. Both have cerebral palsy.
“My wheelchair was on our lap and there was shelling constantly. We were scared we would be killed there and the explosions got even louder when we reached the checkpoint,” Toporkova said.
After their minibus broke down on the outskirts of the city they were worried their chance was gone, but a Red Cross volunteer managed to transfer them to a car.
Yet at one checkpoint, they were held for seven hours.
It was a long and painful wait for the group, whose physical difficulties were exacerbated by long periods of sitting in a car.
There are more than seven million people aged 60 or older in Ukraine and 2.7 million people with disabilities, according to the European Disability Forum.
Advocacy groups have warned that many would not be able to escape or seek shelter due to lack of mobility.
Out of a column of more than 100 cars, the group said they were eventually one of only two vehicles that were allowed to pass. The journey took 12 hours instead of the usual two because of difficulties at checkpoints.
“There were three possible outcomes: one is that we got hit by the shelling, another is we got stuck and then who could possibly save us. The third is that we got out, and thankfully that’s what happened,” said Razikov.
Toporkova started powerlifting 19 years ago and is a two-time world champion.
She has not been able to train since the war began in late February and gyms closed and she also faced losing her job and means to earn a living if she stayed. She used to do three two-hour sessions a week.
“If I don’t train for one week, it’s OK, but two weeks is terrible,” she said. “Let’s say I could lift 100 kilograms before, after that time I would only be able to lift 80kg.”
“I’m losing results if I’m not training and I won’t get invited to international competitions anymore.”
Now she is heading to Lviv in western Ukraine and hopes to be able to return to the gym.
“I cannot wait to start training again.”


Saudi esports federation chief says Kingdom has huge potential in market

Saudi esports federation chief says Kingdom has huge potential in market
Updated 7 sec ago

Saudi esports federation chief says Kingdom has huge potential in market

Saudi esports federation chief says Kingdom has huge potential in market
  • Prince Faisal bin Bandar said Saudi youth would play a role in esport development

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has huge potential in the esports market given its location between east and west, the chairman of the board of Directors of the Saudi Esports Federation (SEF) said Monday.

Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, speaking about the Kingdom’s e-sports strategy recently launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also said Saudi youth would play a role in its development, considering more than 21 million young people are interested in gaming.

Prince Faisal’s comments came during a tour that included Singapore and South Korea, during which he participated in the All That Matters Conference in Singapore and the World esports Summit in South Korea.

The conferences involved a large number of senior executives from around the world in the world of Web3, music, sports, games, digital and marketing.

During the tour, which aimed to introduce the Saudi strategy and its objectives, Prince Faisal touched on the sectors that it aims to develop — including new technologies and devices, the esports production sector, the governance and regulations sector, in addition to infrastructure and attracting and developing talents.


UAE Pro League: High-flying Sharjah maintain perfect start to season

UAE Pro League: High-flying Sharjah maintain perfect start to season
Updated 03 October 2022

UAE Pro League: High-flying Sharjah maintain perfect start to season

UAE Pro League: High-flying Sharjah maintain perfect start to season
  • Gabrielzinho Al-Wasl’s hero after two goals secure derby win over Al-Nassr
  • Last season’s runners-up Sharjah sustained the now sole 100 percent start with a 3-0 win at Khor Fakkan

Sharjah’s superstars showcased their collective might, Belgium center back Jason Denayer endured a chastening Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club debut and an electrified Al-Wasl exhibited flashes of brilliance in a fevered Bur Dubai derby when the ADNOC Pro League returned at the weekend.

A lively restart after the international break was headlined by a double strike from Al-Wasl’s Gabrielzinho in a raucous 2-1 win at Al-Nasr’s packed out Al-Maktoum Stadium. Former Barcelona ace Miralem Pjanic netted his second goal in UAE football and Greece center back Kostas Manolas didn’t put a foot wrong during his first appearance as last season’s runners-up Sharjah sustained the now sole 100 percent start with a 3-0 win at Khor Fakkan.

There was less joy for second-half substitute Denayer who witnessed new employers Shabab Al-Ahli go down 3-2 at expected strugglers Al-Dhafra.

Champions Al-Ain rebounded in a 3-0 beating of dark horses Ittihad Kalba, while Carlos Carvalhal ignored the noise surrounding him at Al-Wahda with an emphatic 4-0 victory at upstarts Al-Bataeh, although this result couldn’t prevent him becoming the campaign’s first managerial casualty.

Ex-Serbia youth international Sasa Ivkovic’s 94th-minute goal, meanwhile, saw Al-Jazira drop points for the first time with a 1-1 draw at Baniyas, and Morocco hit man Walid Azaro’s brace helped Ajman to a 3-1 win — their first of the campaign — against promoted Dibba Al-Fujairah.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the matchweek four action:

Player of the week: Gabrielzinho (Al-Wasl)

It was supposed to be the weekend when star power dominated. It was, though, a less-heralded addition from the division’s extensive summer trolley dash who shone brightest.

Gabrielzinho arrived to little fanfare at Zabeel Stadium from promoted Portuguese outfit Rio Ave in July. But the 26-year-old winger guaranteed himself Wasl supporters’ eternal affections with a decisive — and defining — brace in Saturday’s derby.

Each goal saw the ball move from the Wasl penalty box to their opponents’ at lightning speed. Each involved a youthful trident of emerging UAE golden child Ali Saleh, increasingly influential Argentina youth international Tomas Chancalay — unburdened about an eligibility row when on the pitch — and the Brazilian free agent.

The latter pair directly contributed to both goals. Chancalay’s ability to dribble and retain clear vision at high velocity was rewarded with both assists for Gabrielzinho — one finish into the roof, the other into the bottom left.

Al-Wasl had only 29 percent possession and lost the attempts count 16-9 on a night in which ex-AC Milan, Benfica and Morocco midfielder Adel Taarabt debuted for the opposing Blue Wave.

But expressive head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi’s blueprint was all over this. Center backs Aleksandar Vasiljevic and Soufiane Bouftini defended stoutly, allowing a vibrant attack — led by Gabrielzinho — space to plunder.

Goal of the week: Mohamed Rayhi (Al-Dhafra)

Remarkable goals and remarkable results adorned this round.

Toze’s unstoppable free kick was immaterial for Nasr, Azaro’s whipped second secured Ajman three points and Caio’s thunderbolt showed it’s not just the massive names who’ll stylishly deliver for Sharjah.

The best of all, however, came in the Western Region.

Mohamed Rayhi sparked bedlam amid Dhafra’s technical team as his measured, curled effort from 30 yards near the hour mark put the unfancied hosts 3-0 up against celebrated Shabab Al-Ahli.

This moment typified the defiance, ingenuity and skill required to prevail in such a mismatch.

It provided enough of a buffer to eventually win 3-2 and an injection of belief to hang on for this memorable first three-point haul of the season.

Coach of the week: Carlos Carvalhal (Al-Wahda)

Managers rarely field questions about their futures in the aftermath of a 4-0 victory.

This was, however, the case on Sunday for Carvalhal.

Disquiet and rancour after a winless beginning stained the build-up to a seemingly tricky trip to Bataeh. These issues were pushed to one side, for 90 minutes at least, in an uplifting performance on the east coast.

Portuguese sports daily O Jogo then reported after the final whistle about an impending exit for Carvalhal and return of Spain’s Manolo Jimenez. The former’s departure was then made official on Monday night, with the latter’s rehiring – he led them to fifth in 2019-20 eason – expected to imminently follow.

Carvalhal’s swansong saw ex-Everton and Napoli defensive midfielder Allan adding bite upon his opening start, with former Benfica skipper Pizzi buzzing around with seven key passes. 

Veteran striker Sebastian Tagliabue’s first goal back at the Al Nahyan Stadium-outfit – a 153rd in the top flight for them - supplied further gloss, in a fixture dominated by set-pieces.

Carvalhal - a coveted former Sporting Lisbon, Besiktas, Swansea City and Braga tactician – was just four months into a lucrative one-season deal. He swiftly leaves with barely an imprint made.

Local talent isn’t being crowded out

It would be curious to consult UAE head coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena about this unprecedented transfer window.

The former Boca Juniors, Villarreal and Argentina full back is patently aware of top-level demands. But there must be a degree of nervousness about opportunities afforded to potential Whites stars, especially after a scoreless international period which contained 1-0 and 4-0 friendly reversals to Paraguay and Venezuela.

Yet, the 47-year-old should be encouraged by the sight of six UAE-eligible scorers in matchweek four.

Mabkhout maintained his one-goal lead in the scoring chart, Wahda center back Fares Juma struck from a set piece, 20-year-old forward Ahmed Fawzi marked his Jazira-to-Dhafra loan with a goal and Shabab Al-Ahli wide man Yahya Al-Ghassani tapped home in vain.

Naturalized attackers Tagliabue and Caio Canedo also got in on the action.

It was this season’s joint highest round tally for UAE-eligible players. A fact given greater value as it followed the previous fortnight’s accumulation of more renowned foreigners.

Emirati players are responding positively, it seems.


Classico stalemate, Al-Hilal shocked: 5 things we learned from round 5 of Roshn Saudi League

Classico stalemate, Al-Hilal shocked: 5 things we learned from round 5 of Roshn Saudi League
Updated 03 October 2022

Classico stalemate, Al-Hilal shocked: 5 things we learned from round 5 of Roshn Saudi League

Classico stalemate, Al-Hilal shocked: 5 things we learned from round 5 of Roshn Saudi League
  • Two red cards overshadowed the 0-0 draw between the Riyadh and Jeddah giants, while the reigning Saudi and Asian champions were stunned at home by Al-Taawoun

The Roshn Saudi League returned to action after the FIFA international break and while the eagerly awaited Classico between Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad didn’t produce a winner, there were plenty of highlights and surprises elsewhere. Below are five things we learned from round five.

1. Stubborn Al-Ittihad dig in for point at Al-Nassr

The stalemate in the Classico was not one of those vintage 0-0 draws and will be remembered for the two red cards. The first was given to Al-Ittihad midfielder Tarek Hamed for a bad tackle on Vincent Aboubakar just before the break, and the card that came after a video review provoked the biggest cheer of the evening.

The second was shown to Al-Nassr’s Abdulmajeed Al-Sulaiheem, whose offense was similar, just before the hour.

In front of a full and hostile Mrsool Park in Riyadh, the dismissals were not a major surprise but even with 11 men, it looked as if Al-Ittihad, already without the injured Romarinho and Helder Costa, were content with a point and were happy to keep things tight. Being reduced to 10 men meant that coach Nuno Espírito Santo and his men really shut up shop to frustrate the hosts.

After the game, Nuno talked of the spirit his players demonstrated and it was impressive to see how compact, organized and focused the Tigers were. It wasn’t pretty but it got a result in their toughest game of the season so far and still, no team has scored against Al-Ittihad this season.

2. Al-Nassr shouldn’t be too down

There was no doubt that Al-Nassr were more disappointed than Al-Ittihad after their goalless draw. They dominated the game in an attacking sense and while coach Rudi Garcia was left talking about the Tigers’ defensive approach, his team had the possession, two-thirds of it, to win.

The standard of chances could have been better and the French boss was left to lament the absence of Pity Martinez with the Argentine playmaker expected to be out injured for the next month. Without him, there were chances created and almost 20 goal attempts but none of sufficient quality despite the best efforts of Abdulrahman Ghareeb, who had an impressive game.

Yet with Al-Ittihad in this mood and determined to keep a clean sheet, there are going to be a lot of frustrated teams this season when they play the Tigers. You have to take the chances that come your way and on this occasion, Al-Nassr just weren’t clinical enough but have four winnable games before their derby with Al-Hilal.

3. Al-Hilal fall to shock defeat to super Al-Taawoun

Before Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Al-Taawoun, Al-Hilal had played 20 league games in 2022 and lost just one, winning an amazing 18. This season there had been four wins from four without a single goal conceded. This consistency means that all have become accustomed to such excellence and the prospect of defeat was rarely entertained.

There was a similar shock back in May when they lost 1-0 to Al-Feiha only to bounce back to take 30 points from the next 30. This could well be just another blip. On another day, Al-Hilal who had 50 percent more possession and shots would have won.

But the headlines should not be all about the defending champions as Al-Taawoun deserve plenty of plaudits. A team that just escaped relegation last season had taken eight points from the first four games. Now it is 11 from five as they sit in fourth.

The spirit is there, as is, increasingly, the confidence. When Michael opened the scoring for Al-Hilal, finishing a fine move with a flashing low shot just before the half hour, it seemed as if another regulation win for the Riyadh giants was coming. However, Sumayhan Al-Nabit leveled just before the break after Abdullah Al-Mayouf came for a cross and did not collect.

Then when star striker Leandre Tawamba was sent off after 65 minutes, it looked over once again for Al-Taawoun, but nine minutes later, Fahad Al-Rashidi grabbed what turned out to be the winner. It was a stunning result.

4. Injury problems and solutions for Al-Hilal

Coach Ramon Diaz has similar worries to national team boss Herve Renard. Every team in Asia would miss two crucial attacking players of the class of Salman Al-Faraj and Salem Al-Dawsari. Full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani also was absent and then there were the likes of Jang Hyun-soo on the bench, weakening the defense still further.

But amid the gloom of the injuries and the result, there were two bright points on the bench in Abdulelah Al-Malki and Saleh Al-Shehri. The midfielder and attacker had been out with serious injuries for months and were looking unlikely to return to the national team squad in time for the World Cup.

Whether they go to Qatar is still touch and go as neither have played any competitive minutes yet. That will need to change very soon if they are to be named in the Saudi Arabian squad but Al-Hilal fans won’t care as two of their biggest domestic stars are near a return. And, with the team slipping to defeat, they may get a chance on the pitch sooner rather than later.

5. Moustafa Zeghba shows that it’s not all about the big boys

There was an amazing moment on Saturday as Damac defeated Al-Tai 2-0 to maintain their good start to the season. That is not the main story, however, as the second goal was one that will never be forgotten. There seemed to be no danger when the Algerian shotstopper picked up the ball in his own area.

But then his looping kick downfield bounced in the middle of the Al-Tai half. His opposite number Victor Braga was standing around the penalty spot and slowly realized what was happening, and it was the goalkeeper’s worst nightmare. There was nothing the Brazilian could do as the ball looped over his head and outstretched arm and into the net.

It meant that Zeghba becomes the fifth goalkeeper in the SPL’s history to get on the scoresheet and the first since 2020. While his smile was wide when he was congratulated by his delighted teammates, there must have been some sympathy for Braga.


World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz set for Middle East debut at Mubadala World Tennis Championship

World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz set for Middle East debut at Mubadala World Tennis Championship
Updated 03 October 2022

World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz set for Middle East debut at Mubadala World Tennis Championship

World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz set for Middle East debut at Mubadala World Tennis Championship
  • Winner of September’s US Open, the 19-year-old Spaniard — the youngest male to reach the top of the ATP rankings — is heading to Abu Dhabi this December

ABU DHABI: World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz is set make his Middle East debut this December at the 14th Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi.

The Spaniard, who won the US Open last month and in doing so became the youngest male to reach the top of the ATP world rankings, will take to the court at the International Tennis Center at Zayed Sports City from Dec. 16-18.

Alcaraz, who turned 19 in May, will lead a line-up of six of the world’s best men’s players, and they will be joined by women’s World No.2 Ons Jabeur and British No.1 Emma Raducanu who will also face-off on Day 1 of the championship.

Alcaraz’s victory at Flushing Meadows in September was his sixth ATP Tour singles title and his fifth in 2022. Competing at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship for the first time, he will follow in the footsteps of superstars such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and his hero — and five-time winner in the UAE capital — Rafael Nadal.

“I can’t wait to participate in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi,” said Alcaraz, “I’ve seen a lot of players take part in the tournament, and everyone really looks forward to it.”

Championship owner Flash Entertainment confirmed two more of the six-player men’s line-up will be revealed in the coming days and reiterated its commitment to bringing the sport’s biggest and best players to the region. Alcaraz certainly fits that bill.

“World No.1, Carlos Alcaraz has had an incredible year after becoming the youngest ATP 500 champion in Rio de Janeiro back in February to winning the US Open a few weeks ago,” said John Lickrish, CEO, Flash Entertainment. “MWTC has a history of getting the top players to compete in Abu Dhabi; it’s a promise we’ve never had any qualms about making to the tennis fans in the region and we have fulfilled that once again. I have no doubt spectators will enjoy seeing Carlos compete here for the first time, and we are excited to see such a sensational young talent and new generation of superstar at the championship.”


Saudi Arabia’s 4-0 win over South Korea not enough for 2022 AFC Futsal Asian Cup progress

Saudi Arabia’s 4-0 win over South Korea not enough for 2022 AFC Futsal Asian Cup progress
Updated 03 October 2022

Saudi Arabia’s 4-0 win over South Korea not enough for 2022 AFC Futsal Asian Cup progress

Saudi Arabia’s 4-0 win over South Korea not enough for 2022 AFC Futsal Asian Cup progress
  • Green Falcons finished third in Group D on goal difference and miss out on quarterfinals at tournament in Kuwait

A comprehensive 4-0 win by Saudi Arabia over South Korea on Sunday night was still not enough to see the Green Falcons progress to the last eight of the 2022 AFC Futsal Asian Cup taking place at the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Hall in Kuwait.

The day’s other match in Group D saw Japan beat Vietnam 2-0.

The Green Falcons’ win in the final group fixture means they end their campaign with six points from nine, the same tally as Japan and Vietnam. However, Saudi finished third in the standings on goal difference.

Saudi Arabia had lost 3-1 to Vietnam in their second match of tournament on Friday when a win would have ensured progress from Group D to the quarterfinals, after they had launched their campaign on Monday with a 2-1 win over Japan.

The 16-team tournament kicked off on Sept. 27 and will conclude on Oct. 8.