How Steve Belkowitz gave a Ukrainian-born Paralympian her day in the sun


I’m so moved by the stories we’re hearing about the tenacity, optimism and determination of the Ukrainian people. Here’s a different kind of example of that spirit from Steve Belkowitz. Oksana Masters was born in Ukraine in 1989, three years after Chernobyl, with several radiation-induced birth defects. She was abandoned to an orphanage at birth and adopted at age 7 by an American university professor. A few years later, both of her legs had to be amputated and she underwent surgery to reshape her hands. But none of that stopped her from pursuing her passion for sports—first rowing, then skiing, then cycling. And today, she’s America’s most decorated Paralympian, with 14 medals in both summer and winter sports. Steve was commissioned by The Hartford to shoot portraits of Oksana for advertising and social media. He met up with her in Copper Mountain Colorado, where she was training, and, with careful planning and preproduction, created a full library of images in a single 10-hour day—a day that included documenting Oksana’s workout between the planned shooting sessions and creating a totally believable snowscape in a warm, sunny field. I hope these images inspire you as much as they inspire me. Slava Ukraini!