Prince Harry's Invictus Games Mourns the Loss of Ukrainian Competitor Who Died in Russian Conflict

Ukrainian competitor Serhii Karaivan died while fighting against the Russian invasion of his country, the Invictus Games announced in a statement on Wednesday

Prince Harry
Photo: Victoria Jones - WPA Pool/Getty

The Invictus Games are mourning the loss of one of their own.

The international sporting event — which was founded by Prince Harry — announced in a statement on Wednesday that Serhii Karaivan, a member of the Ukrainian Invictus Games community, died on March 13 while fighting against the Russian invasion of his country.

"Serhii Karaivan, a former trialist for the Invictus Games and Warrior Games for Team Ukraine, lost his life in fighting on the 13th March, 2022, and our thoughts go out to his family, friends, and the wider community," the statement read.

Oksana Horbach, a manager for the Ukrainian Invictus Games team, added in her own statement: "It was tough to learn about Serhii's death as the fighting continues. When we win, we will celebrate his life, talk about him, and his sense of humour, professionalism, patriotism and sports endeavours."

"And we will hug and cry and laugh because the memories of him bring joy and happiness," Horbach continued. "Please do not think of him as a martyr, he would not like it. Think of him as a celebrated Invictus Games community member, hero and defender of Ukrainian people."

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Similar to the Paralympics, the Invictus Games invite injured or sick military personnel and veterans to compete in sporting events. Harry, 37, started the Games in 2014.

But amid the global COVID pandemic, the 2020 Invictus Games had to be canceled, and the 2021 Invictus Games had to be postponed. They will now kick off in the Hague, Netherlands, from April 16-22 next month.

The Invictus Games have previously been held in London in 2014, Orlando in 2016, Toronto in 2017, and Sydney in 2018. They will next take place in Düsseldorf, Germany, in 2023, as Harry previously announced in June 2021.

Earlier this month, the Duke of Sussex chatted with members of The Netherlands team in a cute clip posted on Twitter ahead of the fifth annual Games.

Harry — who was joined by Jelle van der Steen, Wouter Bakker, Fenna Geugjes, and Alina Zoet — practiced his Dutch with the athletes to get ready to host this year's Invictus Games in their home country.

He later whipped out some matching orange sunglasses and unzipped his sweatshirt to reveal a T-shirt and shorts in the same shade, all while The Netherlands team applauded him.

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Karaivan's death comes about as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues after their forces launched a large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 — the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.

Details of the fighting change by the day, but hundreds of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children. Millions of Ukrainians have also fled, the United Nations says.

The invasion, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.

With NATO forces massing in the region around Ukraine, various countries have also pledged aid or military support to the resistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.

Putin, 69, insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy, 44, vowed not to bend.

"Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."

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In its statement, the Invictus Games noted it is aware of Ukrainian competitors, staff and team management who have signed up to serve in the war again, even after "injuries sustained in conflict with Russia since 2014."

"The Invictus Games Foundation offered support, but as a team they chose to stay, and serve," the statement continued.

"The upcoming Invictus Games ... will be a powerful reminder of the importance of recovery and rehabilitation from physical and mental trauma, and of bringing the international Invictus community together," added the statement.

"When the time is right, the Invictus Games Foundation will once again support Team Ukraine with the rehabilitation and recovery through sport that it will need," the statement concluded.

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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