Off Road

Hero of Ukraine Viacheslav Ponomarenko possesses rally raid experience

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Credit: Evgeny Brezhnev

On 10 March, the fifteenth day of Ukrainian defence from Russian invasion, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave thirteen service members the Hero of Ukraine, the highest possible title in the country with military personnel receiving the Order of the Gold Star. Among those honoured was Lieutenant Colonel Viacheslav Ponomarenko, who was competing in rally raid events before serving on the frontlines.

He was involved in the battle for Hostomel, located in Kyiv Oblast near Ukraine’s capital and therefore a critical early target for Russia. Hostomel’s airport was attacked hours after the invasion began, and it was eventually captured the next day followed by the town itself in early March. Ukraine would launch counter-offensives in the region until Russian retreat a month later.

Ponomarenko led a group of defenders in successfully taking on Russian BMP (“Boevaya Mashina Pehoty”, infantry fighting vehicle) units. Zelenskyy commended him in a 10 March address and explained that “thanks to his actions, a significant number of enemy’s equipment and soldiers in the city of Hostomel were destroyed.”

“President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine to Lt. Col. Viacheslav Ponomarenko for his personal courage and heroism shown in the defence of the state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and loyalty to the military oath,” reads a 9 June statement from the Federation Automobile de l’Ukraine (FAU), an FIA member club who sanctions races in the country.

“Under the leadership of Lt. Col. Viacheslav Ponomarenko, a combined special-purpose group in the suburbs of Kyiv—Hostomel—destroyed twenty BMP units of the occupiers’ armed forces along with their personnel and stopped the further advance of the enemy in the direction of Kyiv.

“Viacheslav Ponomarenko is a long-time motorsport activist, athlete, judge, and organiser of off-road motor sports competitions.

“Sincere congratulations to the Hero of Ukraine and best wishes from the entire motorsports community.”

Ponomarenko hails from Dnipro, which serves as a logistical centre for humanitarian efforts but has also been targeted by Russian missile strikes. In peaceful times, he raced in the Ukraine Cup, the national rally raid championship.

At the 2011 Baja Polygon, held on a military training area in his native Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, Ponomarenko served as co-driver of a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado for Volodymyr Korobskiy and finished second in the Sport class. Other drivers whom he teamed up with include Mykola Kuznetsov in a Mitsubishi Pajero and Vavreniuk Bohdan in a UAZ Patriot.

Ponomarenko is not the only figure partaking in Ukraine’s defence with rally raid experience as Minister of Defence Oleksii Reznikov has competed in the Silk Way Rally and domestic championships as a co-driver.

The FAU indefinitely suspended racing on 24 May, but Ukraine will be represented at the FIA Motorsport Games on 29/30 October. A twelve-member delegation for the Games was revealed on 10 August.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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