Elina Svitolina: Ukrainian tennis star says Russia invasion ‘was the worst moment of my life’


The 27-year-old, who was in Monterrey, Mexico, for a tournament, said on Sunday she was terrified for her own family who remain in the war-torn country, taking refuge in the southern city of Odessa.

“I haven’t slept much, I’ve been trying to see what’s going on, how we can help and what we can do,” she told CNN Sport.

“It was the worst period of my life because I have my parents, my friends, my Ukrainian people who are fighting there for our country. It was an extremely, extremely difficult period for everyone.”

Svitolina’s anxiety is further fueled by fears that Odessa is being targeted by Russian forces.

“We are really worried because this part is very attractive for Russia,” she added. “It’s on the Black Sea, there’s a port and we’ve heard it could be in serious danger.”

The current world number 15 has expressed her respect for the way her country and people have responded to the crisis, both those trying to leave Ukraine and those who have decided to stay there.

“There are very brave people staying, and also brave people moving or trying to move to a safe space,” she said.

“I admire the people who have decided not only to stay there, but to take up arms in their own hands. Girls and guys who fight for our country every minute of the day.”

Svitolina also praised the Ukrainian government and political leaders for their handling of the situation, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“I am very proud of Zelensky, he has already done an incredible job so far. He had the opportunity to leave the country, but he decided to stay. It takes a lot of courage,” she said. declared.

“I think that’s an incredible statement for everyone, so I’m really, really proud of our president.”

Call for change

Svitolina wants the sports world to reconsider its influence and in particular what governing bodies can do in light of the conflict.

Following CNN’s interview with Svitolina, she stated that she will not be playing her next match at the Monterrey Open as she refuses to play Russian or Belarusian players unless they are competing as neutral athletes. Svitolina was scheduled to face Russia’s Anastasia Potapova in the first round on Tuesday.

On Monday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) “recommended” that Russian and Belarusian athletes be banned from participating in international sporting events, while Russian national football teams and club teams were suspended from competition until further notice by football’s world governing body, FIFA. and UEFA, the governing body of European football.

And Svitolina urged tennis governing bodies to follow suit.

“I think the current situation requires a clear position from our organisations: ATP, WTA and ITF,” Svitolina said, referring to the Association of Tennis Professionals, the Women’s Tennis Association and the International Federation of Tennis. tennis, writing in a social networks after Monday.

“As such, we – Ukrainian players – have asked the ATP, WTA and ITF to follow the IOC’s recommendations to accept Russian or Belarusian nationals only as neutral athletes, without displaying national symbols, colors, flags or anthems.”

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) has said it strongly disagrees with the IOC’s decision to ban Russian athletes from participating in all international sporting events.

A statement posted on the ROC’s website on Monday said the decision “contradicts both the IOC’s regulatory documents and the [Olympic] charter […] and the spirit of the Olympic movement, which is designed to unite, not divide, especially when it comes to athletes and the equality of participants in the Olympic movement.”

Svitolina’s designated opponent Potapova said she was “against grief, tears and war” in a instagram after Monday.

CNN contacted the ITF, ATP and WTA regarding Svitolina’s comments, but did not receive an immediate response.

READ: Ukrainian athletes ‘seeking safety in bomb shelters’ call for ban from Russia and Belarus
Elina Svitolina says athletes can do more to pressure Russia to end the violence.

“We can unite and make a difference”

“I think it’s extremely important that all sports people come together and stick together. I think we have a great community,” Svitolina said.

“We can come together and make a difference to explain to people what is really going on because I think there are still a lot of people who don’t really understand that we are in great danger and we are fighting for peace. .

“I think it really crosses the line of what’s happening and how many people are dying, how many children are dying, how many women are dying,” she said.

“So for me, the Russian government needs to stop what they’re doing right now.”

The Ukrainian star also praised fellow tennis player Andrey Rublev, a Russian, who has publicly spoken out against the conflict, writing “no to war” on a camera lens after winning their semi-final match at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Friday.

That said, Svitolina says athletes of all nationalities can do more in her own sport to challenge fights.

“I saw his [Rublev’s] great moves, but I think we can do a lot more and have a bigger impact on that,” she said.

“I try to invite the whole tennis community to support us. It doesn’t matter which country you are from, but I think we have to stand together.”

Svitolina had a message on how NATO, Ukraine’s allies around the world and the general public can help Ukraine – donate to the country’s military operation as they continue to defend their nation.

“Try to give money to our army, to the Ukrainian military who are fighting at the moment and losing a lot of soldiers, as well as innocent people,” she said.

“For me it is important to share the message that people must stand with Ukraine and help these innocent people, who lived in peace before but now face the most powerful army in the world.”

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