Expressing himself in Paris via Roland-Garros, Ukrainian ex-tennis player Sergi Stakhovsky returned to his commitment to his country since the beginning of the conflict with Russia and spoke about the current state of tennis.
Sergi, how are you?
I’m alive, my family members too, everyone is safe, I’m personally fine.
Did you meet Elina Svitolina and Andriy Shevchenko in Paris for what occasion?
Elina Svitolina was raising funds with her foundation to help thirty young Ukrainian tennis players and their families. With the collection of money, we try to facilitate your training sessions. And the more funds the foundation raises, the more we can help them. The three of us got together for dinner where we talked about our country, our project for young players.
Andriy Shevchenko became the ambassador of “United 24”, a campaign that President Volodymyr Zelensky started to raise funds in different sectors, humanitarian, military … Elina also became an ambassador. So we’re trying to see what we can do to help. And especially for tennis. With Elina, as an active player, even though she is pregnant, and I, as a retiree, we want to help the young players as much as possible to get out in these difficult times.
How does it feel to watch tennis again?
It’s really amazing. I watched the end of Alexander Zverev’s match in Lenglen. The audience cheered, sang. This is the first time I see a full court from Covid. And it feels good to see the sport again, which also has no health restrictions.
You have been in Ukraine for almost three months. How do you feel about leaving your country?
It’s a different reality but it’s good to see people living normally. No alarms, no guns, no bursts of fire. It feels good.
Was it important for you to come here, in “reality,” as you say?
Yes, of course. We need to know the price at which Ukraine is fighting, why it is defending itself. And we hope that our country will resume a normal life.
Will you be back in Ukraine soon?
I will first spend a week in Budapest with my family. Then I will return to Ukraine. I’m on reservations, so I’m civil. I can travel outside my country because I have three children. This is one of the advantages I have compared to other Ukrainians.
How does your family view this decision?
My wife found the strength to accept my choice to go to the army. I don’t know how I found the strength to commit, but I did and I realized I had no choice. I have to do it for my parents, for me, for my children. I believe in our army, which is quite strong, and at the moment they don’t need me in their ranks. But if they ask me, I will go ahead.
In what state is your country, the different cities?
It is devastated, destroyed. There are many deaths every day. Bombed buildings. It’s a scary world. What we are experiencing has disappeared from television but remains the reality. It is pumping more and more to the west, so close to the European area. The conflict continues in our country and is just as important.
Returning to tennis, the ATP decided not to award any points to players at Wimbledon, in response to a ban by tournament organizers on Russian players. What do you think of this choice?
I am disappointed with this decision. Russia must be isolated. It is a democratic country, they can choose a new government. I think athletes and other people shouldn’t be able to travel outside their country, it’s as simple as that. They want to live normally in Europe, France or the United States, but today athletes are not responsible for what their own government is choosing.
It is not correct. They don’t want to take any position on whether it’s good or not. No Russian player has spoken out against the invasion. For me, if you don’t choose white or black, you shouldn’t participate in tournaments like Roland-Garros or Wimbledon.
Have you talked to Russian players?
I talked to Andrey Rublev and I will say that he is the only one for whom I feel bad, because from day one he has been trying to say no to war and all that. But unfortunately, now “no to war” means nothing. Because if the Ukrainians stopped fighting, we would no longer exist.
The rest of the players are still active, I have not had contact with them. They never wanted to send a message. I will not face them. It is their decision. If they prefer to say “I don’t know what’s going on in Ukraine”, while their army kills men, women, children … It’s because there’s something like it’s wrong.