Ukrainian tennis star Elina Svitolina has spoken about feeling ‘heartbroken’ for friends and family back home as the conflict with invading Russian forces continues.
Speaking exclusively to Eurosport’s Barbara Schett, the 27-year-old also spoke about feeling ‘useless’ from a distance but intends to donate her prize money from recent events to her home country.
Svitolina also called on the tennis world to do more to raise awareness of the situation and help those suffering amid the aggression.
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“It's very tough to explain each time that I talk with my family or with my friends,” an emotional Svitolina revealed. “It's really tough to find words how to explain what's happening,
“Really until the very last moment we did not believe that this war would actually start and then everything just happened at night and everything started. Everyone is terrified, everyone is heartbroken.
“My family is there. Lots of my friends who didn't leave the country are there. They are fighting for their life, some of them are fighting for our country. It takes a lot of courage and it's unbelievable that some people actually took weapons in their hands and went to fight for our land.
“I have my parents there, I have my grandmother, I have my uncle, my aunt. I try to talk with them quite constantly because it's really important to keep the contact with them, how I can help them.
“The most painful thing I would say is that I feel completely useless because I want to help them. I want to do something for them.
“Some of my friends are without electricity, without water, without food. They are really struggling.”
Russian forces advanced into neighbouring Ukraine last week, launching attacks on military and civilian targets in the country.
Casualties have been reported with hundreds of thousands of people either forced to take shelter in air raid shelters and underground bunkers as well as trying to flee.
Ukrainian forces have shown determined resistance to the invasion; however, the crisis persists as Russia hits major cities – including capital Kyiv - with huge uncertainty over how it will ultimately be resolved.
Svitolina, who is currently in Monterrey, says she is keeping in touch with fellow tennis stars who are still in the country and insists the tennis community can play an important role on shining a light on what the Ukrainian people – both inside and outside the sport – are being forced to endure.
“We have a group chat with Ukrainian tennis players, and everyone is safe. Everyone is good. There was also Lyudmyla Kichenok, who had the same situation. She was in Kyiv. She had a terrible, terrible trip to try to leave Kyiv because Kyiv is in such a worse state right now.
“Luckily everything went well. I'm very happy that they are safe right now. So now we are really praying for the family of all Ukrainian girls from tennis and the rest of the Ukrainian people.
“I still think that we could do much better because I think the tennis community should do better. And we've seen many events that happened in the past, different kinds of events where people, the tennis community, came together and we helped the world to know the stories.
“So I think here as well, we can do much more. And I think the tennis community can really help us to understand what's happening and really help Ukrainian people, Ukrainian families who are struggling right now and who are losing their soldiers, they're innocent people who are just dying to defend their country.”
Svitolina, who reached the US Open and Wimbledon semi-finals in 2019 and won bronze for her country at Tokyo 2020, also spoke about how difficult it is to focus solely on tennis with everything going on at present but revealed she will be offering support, financially at least, as best she can.
“It's very tough mentally. I chat with a couple of Ukrainian girls. For them, it's also extremely tough. Some are struggling, really cannot practice, cannot focus, cannot sleep. We are checking our phones. What's happening with our families and that mentally is very tough.
“But people in Ukraine are going through ten or 20 times worse a situation. They're defending our country. So I have to do something. I have to bring attention to the world and I cannot just sit and watch what is happening.
“So I decided that the prize money from my upcoming tournaments here in Mexico and in the States will go to the Ukrainian Army and to humanitarian needs. So like this, I can help my country. And this, I think is the right thing to do at the moment. And I want to do something and to help my country.
“To the people in the world, I would say to try to understand that we're losing innocent people, we're losing soldiers and we're constantly under attack.
“I want them to go on the streets to join people outside, try to bring attention and do what they can for our country to stand with Ukraine.”
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