Ukraine No 1 Elina Svitolina is donating her prize money from her forthcoming WTA tournaments to Ukraine’s military and to help with humanitarian efforts following Russia’s invasion of her country last week.
My people, every day I fear for you. I am devastated, my eyes won’t stop crying, my heart won't stop bleeding. But I am so proud. See our people, our mothers, our fathers, our brothers, our sisters, our children, they are so brave and strong, fighting to defend You. They are heroes. Elina Svitolina
The World No 15 told both the BBC and Eurosport that her family and friends in Ukraine are defending the country, and that she wants to help.
“Really, until the very last moment, we did not believe that this war would actually start and then everything just happened at night … Everyone is terrified, everyone is heartbroken,” she said. “My family is there.
“Lots of my friends, who didn’t leave the country are there. They’re 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 took weapons in their hands and went to fight for our land.
“The most painful thing, I would say, is 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’re really struggling.”
Ukraine’s health ministry said on Sunday that 352 civilians, including 14 children, had been killed since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, adding that 1,684 people, including 116 children, had been wounded.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a ‘special operation’ that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
Svitolina, who is competing in Monterrey this week ahead of WTA 1000s at Indian Wells and Miami in the United States, said she had endured a tough time mentally, but acknowledged that what people were going through back home was worse.
“So I decided the prize money from my upcoming tournaments here in Mexico and in the States will go to the Ukrainian Army and to humanitarian needs,” Svitolina said. “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.”
Just 6 months ago, Svitolina was celebrating her wedding to Gael Monfils before they both flew to Tokyo for the Olympics where she won the bronze medal, taking it home for Ukraine.
Now heartbroken and scared for her homeland and its citizens, the 27-year-old from Odessa has penned a letter addressed to her Motherland to share her thoughts and emotions, which she shared on Twitter:
“Letter to my Motherland
“I am currently far away from You, out of sight from my loved ones, far from my people, but my heart has never felt so warm and filled of Your soul.
“It is difficult to express how special You are. To me You are strong, beautiful and unique. You gave me everything and I cherish every piece of You: your culture, your education, your lands, your seas, your cities, your people. My people.
“My people, every day I fear for you. I am devastated, my eyes won’t stop crying, my heart won’t stop bleeding.
“But I am so proud.
“See our people, our mothers, our fathers, our brothers, our sisters, our children, they are so brave and strong, fighting to defend You.
“They are heroes.
“I commit to redistribute the prize money of my next tournaments to support army and humanitarian needs and help them to defend You, our country.
“Ukraine, You unify us, You are our identity, You are our past and our future. We are Ukraine.
“MAY THE WORLD SEE IT AND HELP US TO JOIN FORCES TO PROTECT YOU.
“You are in all my thoughts and prayers. You are always with me. I am Ukraine. We are Ukraine.
“Elina Svitolina, a proud Ukrainian.”
Elsewhere, the tennis world continues to denounce the invasion.
Daria Saville, one of the few Australian athletes to speak out about the Russia-Ukraine war, and her husband, Luke Saville, hope it inspires others to follow suit.
Saville (née Gavrilova), who made her first WTA quarter-final in 3 years and knocked top seed Emma Raducanu in the first round at Guadalajara last week, shot to prominence after making the 4th round of the Australian Open in 2016 and 2017.
Before she became an Australian star, Saville had the Russian flag next to her name on scoreboards around the world, born in Moscow, and representing Russia at the Youth Olympic Games in 2010.
Her relationship with Luke played a significant part in her decision to seek Australian citizenship in 2015.
“Russia. Stop this war,” Saville tweeted alongside a heartbreak emoji.
Saville then signalled her intention to wear blue and yellow in support of Ukraine in her next tournament, at Indian Wells, before switching to Russian to offer her support for those in the war-torn countries.
“Silence in the current situation is equal to complicity. Putin, stop the war. Army, come home!” she wrote.
Speaking at Sydney’s Ken Rosewall Arena before his Davis Cup debut, Luke Saville gave an insight into his wife’s concern for her parents, among others.
“It’s terrible, what’s happening over there, of course. It’s close to my heart, as well,” he said. “My mother-in-law and father-in-law are both over there in Moscow.
“Just speaking to [Daria] over the last few days, she’s just very worried. She’s concerned, and obviously that hits home with me.
“I want to see her happy, and playing well. It’s definitely been on her mind. She’s a little bit sad. I just hope they resolve it, basically, like everyone does.”
He commended his wife for having the courage to stand up and talk about the subject. He hopes others follow suit.
“She’s going to try and speak up and be a voice, and hopefully a lot of other players do the same,” he said.
Meanwhile, World No 8 Iga Swiatek admits seeing the images from Ukraine is difficult for her, and hopes everything will return to normal very soon.
On Saturday, Swiatek claimed her first title of the season after destroying Anett Kontaveit in the Doha final 6-2 6-0.
“I want to show my support to all the people who are suffering in Ukraine,” she said in the trophy ceremony. “Seeing those images is really emotional for me.
“I wouldn’t even imagine stuff happening like that in the country next to me.
“I hope in the end it will be more safe. I also hope that even though this is a small event, looking at all the problems we have in the world, the sport is going to connect.
“Even though we have many things dividing us, the sport is going to connect us, it’s going to bring us joy.
“Thank you all for coming tonight. I hope the Ukrainian people are going to be home.”
Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska fled her war-torn country with her younger sister to seek safety in France, and is now planning to take part in the Lyon Open, which kicks off this week.
The 21-year-old lived in Odessa with her parents and her sister, but once the port city started to be targeted as ships were hit with missiles, Yastremska’s parents insisted their children flee from the country.
“Tired, but my sister and I are safe,” she posted. “Thank you France, Ukraine stay strong, we miss you home, Mum and Dad.”
The 3-time WTA title winner is due to play Ana Bogdan from Romania in Lyon.
The former World No 21 revealed her intention to leave Ukraine on Friday, when she posted a picture of her and her sister sat on suitcases, captioned: “After spending two nights in the underground parking, my parents made a decision at any cost to send me and my little sister out of Ukraine.
“Mom, Dad, we love you very much, take care of yourself!!! I love you my country! Ukrainians take care of your lives!”
Yastremska isn’t the only successful player to hail from the recently devastated country as 7 Ukrainians feature in the WTA’s top 200 players, including Svitolina, Anhelina Kalinina and Marta Kostyuk.
Ukrainians are fleeing the country, with thousands having already crossed the border into Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, while many more are looking to make the same hazardous journey.
American Amanda Anisimova encapsulated what everyone thinks about the conflict in Ukraine, tweeting: “Military and civilian people are losing lives in Ukraine and the world is devastated for what is happening in Ukraine. “#nohumanity. No words for what is happening.”
Anisimova’s words echo the many scattered messages across social media calling for an end to the unprovoked invasion, calling it war.