Vladyslava Kravchenko’s life changed dramatically when a lighting structure collapsed on her and seven other people during a party in Qawra in September 2008, when she was just 17 years old.
She describes the incident as a tragedy – but not for the reason you might expect.
“What happened in 2008 was a tragedy not because of my spinal cord injury but because it seems that no lesson was learnt. People are still getting injured in public places. There doesn’t seem to be any policy or legislation which protects the health and safety of the public.”
The nation was shocked last November when 74 young people were injured after a glass bannister at the Plus One club in the country’s entertainment mecca collapsed under the weight of scores of patrons attempting to leave at once. Two girls, including a 13-year-old, were critically injured.
“Children were hurt in Paceville; children who rely on adults to ensure their safety,” Ms Kravchenko says.
“How many people have to get injured and ‘crippled’ before people realise that safety must always come first and everything else – profit, fun and entertainment – merely follows?”
When public health and safety are compromised, the consequences can be devastating, Ms Kravchenko continues, submitting herself as an example.
Swimming has changed my life
Recounting the various hardships she has battled so far, the articulate 24-year-old exudes optimism and no hint of bitterness pervades her voice.
For the past seven and a half years, she has been embroiled in a legal battle for compensation in a civil court case against the company which set up the lighting structure, the event organisers and the local council which granted the permit.
“I am not interested in complaining, judging or blaming anyone,” she says simply.
“I just want to raise awareness because I think it’s my social responsibility. I also like to think that my physical and emotional suffering will result in a positive change in society. I would like to see the authorities and policymakers introduce provisions that would protect public health and safety, that the rights of those who get injured are protected and that these provisions are adequately enforced.”
There is no monetary compensation which can make up for the physical and psychological pain which ineluctably followed the incident. The financial impact on her family has been “tremendous”, she says. Although she was born in Ukraine, Ms Kravchenko has been living in Malta together with her mother since she was nine years of age and is a Maltese citizen.
“My mother left her job for several months and spent the four months I was in hospital by my bedside and continued supporting me once I was discharged. I also missed many months of school as I attended rehabilitation.”
Ms Kravchenko’s friends helped her set up the Help Vlada Campaign, a registered NGO aimed at raising money to fund her treatment and rehabilitation.
Ms Kravchenko had travelled to Moscow to undergo experimental stem cell treatment in the hope of being able to walk again.
As costs soared to over €100,000, she decided to stop the treatment in 2012.
“It was financially impossible to continue. The treatment was still in its developmental stages and after spending so many months in hospital, I just wasn’t able to carry on with it.”
Instead, she continued her own rehabilitation through swimming. The child of professional athletes, Ms Kravchenko had been a keen gymnast and ballet dancer.
“When I suffered the injury, I thought I would never manage to do sports. I started visiting the pool as part of my rehabilitation a year or two after I got out of hospital to regain strength. And I just loved it so much.”
“Swimming has changed my life.”
Since 2013, Ms Kravchenko has been training rigorously every day with the ultimate goal of representing Malta in the Summer Paralympic Games in Brazil in September this year.
She has also been appointed youth ambassador of Para Sport by the European Paralympic Committee – on top of qualifying as a chartered accountant and working at an audit firm.
“The power of sport is incredible – it helped me get my physical and mental strength back.
“Swimming has changed my life.”