Ukrainian Tennis Star Booed For Refusing To Shake Belarusian Competitor’s Hand

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As the war between Ukraine and Russia continues, so does the acrimony within sports between athletes from the respective countries.

Tensions over the war emerged at the first round of the French Open on Sunday. Though the war has yet to change, reactions have seemingly altered toward villainizing Russian and Belarusian athletes.

Crowds Boo Marta Kostyuk After Snubbing Handshake

In a surprising scene at Roland Garros on Sunday, Ukrainian tennis star Marta Kostyuk was on the receiving end of some jeering from the crowds after refusing to shake her Belarusian opponent, Aryna Sabalenka’s, hand after a loss.

Sabalenka, on the other hand, was met with cheers.


A little over a year since the war broke out between Ukraine and Russia (with the assistance of Belarus), more suffering and death pushes athletes to take a stand and demand others denounce the war incited by Vladimir Putin.

PARIS, FRANCE – MAY 28: Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine celebrates a set won against Aryna Sabalenka during the Day One of French Open Roland-Garros on May 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Antonio Borga/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

Kostyuk Is Pissed Off By The Ongoing War

Speaking after the first-round defeat, Kostyuk admitted to being shocked by the reaction she got for refusing to shake the Belarusian’s hand.


“I have to say,” Kostyuk said, “I didn’t expect it. … People should be, honestly, embarrassed.”

She added, “It’s something I cannot describe, probably. I try to put my emotions aside any time I go out on court. I think I’m better than before, and I don’t think it affects me as much on a daily basis, but yeah, it’s just — I don’t know. There is not much to say, really. It’s just part of my life.”

Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine celebrates winning a point during the Women’s Singles First Round Match (Photo by Andy Cheung/Getty Images)

Sabalenka Says She Has No Effect on Ukraine-Russia War

In her own interview, Aryna Sabalenka declined to extensively speak on the matter but admitted that her impact is minimal when it comes to stopping the war. She attested to being against the war without having to make a political stance.

“At first, I thought they were booing me,” Sabalenka said. “I was a little confused, and I was, like, ‘OK, what should I do?”

“You’re playing against (a) Ukrainian and you never know what’s going to happen,” Sabalenka added. “You never know how people will — will they support you or not? I was worried, like, people will be against me, and I don’t like to play when people (are) so much against me.”

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus celebrates after winning her Women’s Singles First Round Match (Photo by Andy Cheung/Getty Images)

Sabalenka shared that despite being from Belarus, she understands the ongoing war is an atrocity.

“Nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, support the war. Nobody. How can we support the war?” Sabalenka asked. “Nobody — normal people — will never support it. Why (do) we have to go loud and say that things? This is like: ‘One plus one (is) two.’ Of course we don’t support war,” Sabalenka said. “If it could affect anyhow the war, if it could like stop it, we would do it. But unfortunately, it’s not in our hands.”

Kostyuk Keeping The Same Energy

Kostyuk, born in Kyiv, has denied Russian and Belarusian opponents’ postgame formalities before.

In March, Kostyuk played at the ATX Open in Austin, TX. She defeated Russian opponent Varvara Gracheva after two sets to win the singles WTA Tour title and denied her opponent the postgame handshake. Kostyuk also snubbed Russian player Victoria Azarenka at the U.S. Open in September 2022.

“I don’t know why it’s a difficult situation,” Kostyuk noted on Sunday. She added, “I don’t know what other players are afraid of. I go back to Ukraine, where I can die any second from drones or missiles or whatever it is.”

Marta Kostyuk during Roland Garros 2023 in Paris, France on May 28, 2023. (Photo by Foto Olimpik/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Written by Alejandro Avila

Alejandro Avila lives in Southern California and previously covered news for the LA Football Network. Jeopardy expert and grumpy sports fan that has watched every movie.

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