Viktor Chukarin: Love for Life and Victory! The Olympic Champion, Who Survived 17 Concentration Camps
When you sometimes get frustrated in life and say to yourself, “That’s it, I can’t do this any more!” you probably should remember the history of Olympic champion Viktor Chukarin, who survived the hell that was the German concentration camps and proved to the whole world that the will to win is truly capable of miracles. He fought in the war, survived Buchenwald and the “death barges” in order to later become a seven-time Olympic champion. Perhaps this is why the master of sports, who could easily lift himself up with one arm on the pull up bar, became an idol for the entire USSR.
Viktor Chukarin was born in 1921 in the south of the Donetsk region, in the village Krasnoarmiysk. But shortly after his birth, Viktor’s parents decided to move to Mariupol. In those years, the city was actively developing and inviting young and energetic people. It was there that one day the young boy saw gymnasts practicing at the local stadium. The boy was so impressed that when he returned home, the first thing he did was build for himself in the courtyard an exercise bar made of rusted pipes.
In 1937, the Chukarin family suffered a tragedy: the head of the family was repressed for a letter to Romanian relatives in which he asked for help with products. Despite this, the son of the “enemy of the people,” by some miracle, still successfully enrolled in the Kyiv Technical College of Physical Culture.
Already at 19, the young man won the Ukrainian Gymnastics Championship, officially becoming a master of sports of the USSR. He dreamed of winning the medal at the Soviet Union Championship, but then the Second World War began. On the first day of the war, the former student was summoned to the military committee and sent to the front. After a few weeks, he was injured in the head and captured by the Germans.
The first camp where the boy was an area fenced with barbed wire. The prisoners slept in the open air, because the war had just begun and the Germans had not even had time to erect barracks. The Soviet soldiers were fed exclusively a foul soup. One night Chukarin and his friend tried to escape, but they were immediately caught by the guard. Then the athlete was beaten brutally, leaving him scarred for life.
Then the prisoners were moved from camp to camp. In Buchenwald, the number 10491 was tattooed on Viktor’s hand. All in all, he lived for four years in German captivity, which meant sickness, hunger, inhuman living conditions, where every day could be the last.
At the end of the war, Viktor Chukarin was in a camp on the shores of the North Sea. When the Germans lost the war and Berlin fell, the captors drove took the prisoners to a barge on the sea, with the plan of sinking it together with all the people. But they ran out of time. The British arrived and liberated all the prisoners as well as the future Olympic champion.
When he returned home, barely more than a skeleton, even his mother did not recognize him. She was only able to be sure it was him by a scar on his head.
Of course, none of his friends or relatives thought that Chukarin would continue with sports. But he thought otherwise. Chukarin decided to continue his studies. Having failed to enter the Kyiv Institute of Physical Education, he submitted his application to the Institute of Physical Education that has just opened in Lviv.
Gradually, the former prisoner regained his body mass and muscles. At the first post-war USSR championship in gymnastics, held in 1946, he took twelfth place. For a person who a year before was on the verge of death, it was a huge success, but Chukarin had completely different goals. He trained daily and trained hard to achieve perfection. Already a year later at the same competition the athlete took fifth place. And in 1948 Viktor Chukarin became the champion of the USSR for the first time. It would seem that he had finally reached his goals… But receiving the highest rewards of the Soviet Union was not enough for the champion. He dreamed about the Olympics.
In 1952, at the games in Helsinki, the USSR team first joined the international Olympic family. The newcomers were looked at with a mixture of curiosity and skepticism – can these boys and girls from Comrade Stalin’s country compete with the best athletes in the world? Viewers were also surprised by 31-year-old Chukarin, who at his age for such a sport was already considered a veteran. But the skepticism was superfluous. It was there that the native of a small village in the Donetsk region achieved victory and became an absolute Olympic champion … In 1956, he once again repeated his record and won a gold at the Olympics in Melbourne. As a result, in his not-too-long sports career, the athlete won seven gold, three silver, and one bronze Olympic metal.
The athlete then ended his career and became a trainer, and subsequently a judge of an international category. In the Soviet Union, his name was legendary. He was written about in books, interviews with him were published in newspapers. A photo of the champion appeared on postcards and postal stamps.
Viktor Chukarin died in 1984 and is buried in Lviv. A sculpture marks his grave – a courageous athlete with the look of a winner leaning against sports bars and looking somewhere in the distance…