After a first-round win in the BNP Paribas Open, Ukrainian tennis star Marta Kostyuk described her struggles heading into the match with all her family still in Ukraine and criticized her Russian rivals for their attitude toward the war.
The 19-year-old Kostyuk said the whole experience has been terrifying.
“Especially in the beginning, the first couple days, my whole family was there,” she said. “They were all in one house, so if anything was about to happen, I would lose the whole family. So, thinking of it is just you go to sleep and you don’t know if you wake up the next morning having the family.”
She said she’s coping the way she knows how, and that’s playing tennis.
“At the beginning, I was feeling guilty that I’m not there. You know, the whole family is there but not me. I was feeling guilty that I’m playing tennis, that I have the sky above me that is blue and bright and very calm and mixed feelings,” she said. “But you can’t be in this position, because everyone is fighting how they can fight, and my job is to play tennis, and this is the biggest way I can help in the current situation.”
While Kostyuk plays with Ukraine next to her name in the draw and on the scoreboard, Russian and Belarusian athletes — whose country has cooperated with Russia’s attack on Ukraine — are playing without national symbols or identification, as mandated by the men’s and women’s tours, the New York Times reports.
Kostyuk criticized her Russian rivals on Thursday for their attitude toward the war, saying they appear more concerned with their money than what is happening to the people of Ukraine.
“Seeing [Russian] players on-site really hurts me,” she said. “And seeing them having the only problem not being able to transfer the money and stuff — that’s what they are talking about — this is unacceptable for me.”
She said it is still difficult for her to see Russian athletes on the court and that their calls for peace “have no substance.”
“You cannot be neutral in this,” she said, via Fox News. “These ‘no war’ statements — they hurt me because they have no substance.”
Last month, Russian tennis pro Andrey Rublev spoke out against his country’s decision to enter war with Ukraine by writing “No War Please” in English onto the lens of a television camera.
Other Russian athletes, including tennis champion Daniil Medvedev and Dynamo Moscow football star Fyodor Smolov, have posted messages on social media opposing the war, as well.
Russian authorities have arrested more than 8,000 people for demonstrating against President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the U.S. Embassy’s info as of last week.
Kostyuk called out the ATP and WTA for its decision not to ban competitors from Russia and Belarus, but rather have them compete as neutrals.
“I don’t agree with the action that has been taken,” she said. “Look at the other sports, look at the big sports, what they did, that’s it.”
The NYT reports that Russian and Belarusian athletes were banned from the Paralympics in Beijing, and Russian national teams and clubs have been banned from major global sports like soccer and basketball.
But though Russian and Belarusian track and field athletes have been barred from major competitions like this year’s world outdoor championships in Eugene, individual Russian athletes are still allowed to compete internationally for their non-Russian clubs like the European soccer leagues and the NHL.
Kostyuk said she has heard from some Russian players but added that she’s received no apologies for what their country is doing.
“You don’t have to be involved in politics to behave like a human being. Everyone knows what’s going on. It hurts me,” she said. “It hurts me every time I arrive at the stadium and see all these Russian players.”
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