Elina Svitolina: Ukrainian tennis star says invasion of Russia “was the worst time of my life”

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

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

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

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

“We are really worried because this part is very attractive to Russia,” he added. “It is close to the Black Sea, it has a port and we have heard it could be in grave danger.”

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The current world n. 15 spoke of his respect for the way his country and its people have responded to the crisis, both those who are trying to leave Ukraine and those who have decided to stay there.

“There are very brave people who stay, and also brave people who are on the move or trying to move to a safe space,” he said.

“I admire the people who have decided not only to stay there, but also to take up arms. Girls and boys who fight for our country every single minute of the day.”

Svitolina also praised the Ukrainian government and political leaders for the way they handled the situation, especially the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky.

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

“I think it’s an incredible statement for all people, 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 the governing bodies can do in the light of the conflict.

After CNN interview with Svitolina, he said he would not play his next match at the Monterrey Open because he refuses to play with Russian or Belarusian players unless they compete as neutral athletes. Svitolina was expected to face Russian Anastasia Potapova in the opening round on Tuesday.

On Monday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) “recommended” banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in international sporting events, while Russian national football teams and club teams have been suspended from competitions until further notice. the world governing body of football FIFA and the governing body of European football UEFA.

And Svitolina urged tennis governing bodies to follow suit.

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

“As such, we – Ukrainian players – have asked the ATP, WTA and ITF to follow the recommendations of the IOC to accept Russian or Belarusian citizens only as neutral athletes, without displaying any symbol, color, flag or national anthem.”

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

A statement released on Monday on the ROC’s website said the decision “contradicts both the regulatory documents of the IOC and the [Olympic] paper […] 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. “

Potapova, Svitolina’s opponent, said she was “against pain, tears and war” in a Instagram post Monday.

CNN reached out to ITF, ATP and WTA regarding Svitolina’s comments but received no immediate response.

Elina Svitolina says athletes can do more to pressure Russia to stop the violence.

“We can unite and make a difference”

“I think it is extremely important that all sportsmen come together and be together. I think we have a great community,” said Svitolina.

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

“I think this is really crossing the line of what is 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 has to stop what it is doing right now.”

The Ukrainian star also praised fellow tennis player Andrey Rublev, a Russian, who publicly spoke out against the conflict by writing “no to war” on a camera lens after winning his semifinal at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Friday.

That said, Svitolina says athletes of all nationalities can do more within their sport to challenge fights.

“I saw yours [Rublev’s] very good moves, but I think we can do a lot more and have a bigger impact on that, “he 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 stick together.”

Svitolina sent a message on how NATO, Ukraine’s allies around the world, and the general public can help Ukraine make donations to the country’s military operations while continuing to defend their nation.

“Try to donate money to our army, to the Ukrainian military who are fighting at the moment and who are losing many soldiers, even innocent people,” he said.

“For me, it is important to share the message that people need to be with Ukraine and help these innocent people, who used to live in peace but are now facing the strongest army in the world.”