The third charity evening hosted by the Elina Svitolina Foundation took place at the Monaco Yacht Club on 2 December in aid of war-torn Ukraine and raised more than $251,000 for both the foundation and United24, the funding arm launched by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, for which Svitolina and Andriy Shevchenko serve as ambassadors.
This year has been both the happiest and the most tragic for me. The moment when I found out that Gael and I were going to have a child, the war broke out in my country... I felt hurt and powerless because I couldn't stop this terrible war... My objective [in holding this year's gala was] to reunite all those who support Ukraine, and to find new friends and partners for my Foundation, which focuses on supporting young talents and developing tennis at the same time... The young talents who escaped their country during the war have to know that they will soon be able to back home. Elina Svitolina
Svitolina was joined by her husband, Gael Monfils, and fellow Ukrainian players Marta Kostyuk and Lesia Tsurenko among other special guests, including Shevchenko, the Ukrainian soccer legend.
The guest list included an array of sports stars, with Monaco’s world champion in free diving Pierre Frolla, the French-American former professional basketball player Tony Parker, Marlène Harnois, Olympic Medalist in Taekwondo all attending the glittering Gala Dinner.
Svitolina, a former World No 3 and Ukraine’s most successful tennis player, started her foundation in 2019 to identify and support young top talents for the future of Ukrainian tennis, but the large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, saw the Elina Svitolina Foundation change the focus of its activities to provide emergency assistance to young players and their families fleeing the conflict.
“This evening organised under the Patronage of Prince Albert II is an opportunity to remind everyone once again that the war continues,” said Svitolina. “My goal is to gather those who support Ukraine and find new friends and partners for my Foundation, which works both to support talented children and to develop tennis.”
Svitolina and Monfils have homes in Geneva, Monaco and Odessa, and she told the audience that when the war broke out she discovered she was expecting their first baby.
Her daughter, Skaï, was born just 6 weeks ago and the 28-year old is determined she will have a more secure life as a result of all the fundraising efforts.
The Ukrainian stepped away from the WTA Tour in March after playing just 8 tournaments, saying that the emotional toll of the war and nagging physical injuries proved too much to bear on the match court.
A fund-raising auction was held throughout the evening and raised more than $175,000, with prizes that included sports memorabilia donated by the athletes, tickets to the Monte Carlo Rolex masters and Wimbledon finals 2023, an invitation for the iconic Venetian masquerade, and a coaching lesson by Patrick Mouratoglou, who coached Serena Williams for 7 years, while Rafael Nadal, who could not attend, sent a signed pair of his trainers.
HSH Prince Albert contributed to the auction by donating a watch from his personal collection, designed especially for space explorers – The Omega Speedmaster Skywalker X33, which raised $12,000 and went to the highest bidder, 9 year-old Quintin Hoffmann from Switzerland.
President Zelenskyy launched the United24 program in May following the Russian invasion, as the foremost means for countries to provide support and, to date, more than $237 million has been raised in funds from 110 countries.
Svitolina and Schevchenko are both ambassadors for United24, and together they appealed for much-needed generators for hospitals after the footballer shared his story of seeing how doctors have to operate on children using flashlights from telephones.
The Ukrainian flag and Zelenskyi’s hoodie, both symbols of the resistance and both signed by the President, raised almost $64,000.
“No matter what the future brings, I will continue to help talented children and those who were displaced, Svitolina added. “I dream of building the best tennis I can in Ukraine, and creating professional conditions for young Ukrainian tennis players.
“For those who will return home after the victory, dreams will never die, even in the most difficult of circumstances.”
While she hopes to return to the Hologic WTA Tour in 2023, Svitolina has kept herself busy during her time away through various philanthropic initiatives.
In addition to the Monaco event, she joined a fundraiser at Roland Garros in May; presented at the Ukrainian Recovery Conference in Lugano, Switzerland, and joined Iga Swiatek’s ‘Iga Swiatek and Friends’ charity exhibition in Krakow, Poland in July; as well as hosting the ES Tennis Camp in Bulgaria for displaced children in September.
“This year has been both the happiest and the most tragic for me,” Svitolina wrote on Instagram. “The moment when I found out that Gael and I were going to have a child, the war broke out in my country.
“Even now, I still can’t fully describe what I was feeling at that moment. I felt hurt and powerless because I couldn’t stop this terrible war. However, I made a decision to take action.”
Further funds will be raised via an online charity auction which runs until 20 December, with items on offer including a racket signed by Svitolina, a jersey signed by Monfils, and a warm-up jacket worn and signed by World No 1 Swiatek.
“My objective [in holding this year’s gala was] to reunite all those who support Ukraine, and to find new friends and partners for my Foundation, which focuses on supporting young talents and developing tennis at the same time,” Svitolina added.
“My team and I solidly believe in Ukraine’s victory, and we are already thinking of post-war restoration of sport infrastructures.
“The young talents who escaped their country during the war have to know that they will soon be able to back home.”
Elsewhere, President Zelenskyy has been discussing how best to help Ukraine overcome the power supply crisis caused by the Russian attacks, with Svitolina, Shevchenko, boxer Oleksandr Usyk, astronaut Scott Kelly, actor and producer Liev Schreiber, and historian and writer Timothy Snyder.
“I met with the ambassadors of our United24 fundraising platform,” Zelenksy said in a daily video address. “Andriy Shevchenko, Oleksandr Usyk and Scott Kelly – they were in Kyiv – and Elina Svitolina, Liev Schreiber and Timothy Snyder joined the meeting via video call.
“The main issue is getting through this winter, helping Ukraine with generators and other energy equipment.
“We will do everything so that Ukraine receives the maximum possible help from the world.”