Retired Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky, who joined the armed forces to help combat Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, says Novak Djokovic “completely understands” the war in Ukraine having “lived through hell when he was young”.
Stakhovsky left his wife and three young children in Hungary and returned to his birthplace to help try to fight Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The 36-year-old has been working with a branch of the Ukraine armed forces that can only be used inside the city premises and reached out to the tennis community for financial support.
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Djokovic and many others from the tennis world answered his calls. Stakhovsky shared a message from the Serbian on social media to show that the tennis world is united against the invasion.
Stakhovsky says it was extra special receiving support from Djokovic because the world number two knows what it is like to have lived through a war.
"I put out Novak's (message) with his permission because I know for Ukrainians, that would matter,” he said.
“Not all the Ukrainians would know Richard Gasquet or Lucas Pouille or Aljaz Bedene, or all the other guys, but they will see that he is supportive, that he understands that he condemns what's going on, that's the most important part - raise the spirit of the Ukrainians a bit.
“Although maybe they are already high with having finally a normal president who is willing to put himself where his words are and put his life on the line alongside all the other Ukrainians.
“It was, of course, special to hear messages from players. Novak is different because Novak lived through hell when he was young.
“He completely understands what our kids are going through right now in Ukraine, when they live in the metro stations. So, you know, it's something that I wish no one would have to go through.”
Stakhovsky's career highlights included rising to a best ATP ranking of No. 31 in 2010, reaching the third round of Grand Slam tournaments six times, and pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the sport's history when he ended Roger Federer's record streak of 36 consecutive major quarter-final appearances by beating him 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-5 7-6(5) in the second round at Wimbledon in 2013.
After arriving back in Ukraine on February 28, he admits nothing could have prepared him for war.
"I don't have the words to describe it,” he said.
“I would never imagine in my life that it would come to this, that I would be in my home city patrolling in a home-made vest, with a gun in my hands.
"I mean, five days before the war was in Kyiv, and a lot of people in American and British intelligence saying that Russia will invade, even then I was 100 per cent sure it's not going to happen. I said there was no chance Russia openly would go into war, invade Ukraine - on what pretext?
“There is no pretext for it. So I don't have to go far. I mean, I'm still, you know, a lot of people are saying that they're waking up and hoping. It was just a bad dream. But on day 16, (that) doesn't work anymore.
“First couple of days, (it's) surreal. You don't believe that it's actually happening. And the next thing you know, you get used to it and you're just trying to find a way of helping your country to actually survive."
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