By Duncan Mackay

Valeriy SushkevychNovember 17 - Ukraine's remarkable performance at this year's Paralympic Games in London came despite the lack of understanding about disability there, the head of the country's National Paralympic Committee has claimed.

Ukraine finished fourth overall with a total of 84 medals, 32 of them gold, ahead of Australia and the United States, with the most successful individual athlete being swimmer Natalia Prologayeva, who won three golds and one silver.

"Unfortunately I have to state the fact that all of our achievements come not due to but despite the existing situation," Valeriy Sushkevych (pictured above), the President of the Ukraine Paralympic Committee, told AFP in an interview.

"I'm amazed that despite being almost completely isolated from the normal life of Ukraine's average population, the disabled here have managed to solve an extremely difficult task - to establish themselves in this life."

Ukraine made their debut in the Paralympics at Atlanta in 1996 following the break-up of the Soviet Union and finished 44th overall with seven medals, one of them gold.

They improved to 35th four years later in Sydney with 37 medals, three of them gold.

But their biggest improvement has coincided with Sushkevych, a former swimmer who is now a member of Ukraine's Parliament, helping establish a new national training centre for Paralympic athletes in 2002 and lobbying for more funding. 

Natalia Prologayeva with London 2012 Paralympic medalSwimmer Natalia Prologayeva was Ukraine's most successful athlete at London 2012 with three golds and a silver

They finished sixth at Athens in 2004 with a total of 55 medals, including 24 gold, and fourth at Beijing 2008 with 74 medals, 24 of them gold.

They have also been successful at the Winter Paralympics, including finishing third overall at Turin 2006 with 25 medals, seven of them gold. 

Sushkevych hopes that success in the Paralympics can help persuade the Ukrainian Government to improve conditions for the rest of the disabled community in the country.

"For me personally, solving the problems of all Ukraine's disabled, not only athletes, is a matter of top priority," he added.

"That's why the mission of battling against the lack of awareness of our bureaucrats is my everyday work.

"The miracles and the greatness of the spirit shown by our Paralympic athletes were inspiring. After their sporting success, I expect their next victory in Ukraine at the legislative level.

"I believe the Paralympians' success will become the driving force that will help the Parliament to pass further laws in the interests of disabled people of Ukraine, who all need to be treated as equal by our society.

"Unfortunately, discrimination of disabled people in the post-Soviet countries is a broad problem.

"And what is even more lamentable is that it has become commonplace."

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