Elina Svitolina from Ukraine gathers for forgotten compatriots

Former world number three Elina Svitolina said she fears people are forgetting her compatriots, now nearly 10 months into Russia’s ongoing invasion that has left cities in ruins.

She is one of Ukraine’s most celebrated athletes and has added star power to a fundraiser to provide electricity generators to Ukrainian hospitals as the invasion continues into the bitter winter months.

“We are here to do everything we can to tell people, to introduce them to what is really happening in Ukraine, because a lot of people come to me and ask, ‘Is there still war?’ And this is really painful to hear,” she told Reuters.
The effort has already raised more than $1.8 million on an online donation platform through UNITED 24, a charitable giving hub launched by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Moscow said this week there would be no “Christmas ceasefire”. Russia invaded its neighbor on February 24, calling it a “special military operation”. Tens of thousands of people have died while millions have been displaced.

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For Svitolina, who gained huge popularity at home when she became the first Ukrainian to reach a major semifinal at Wimbledon in 2019, the issue is deeply personal as she has relatives in Odessa.

“They have also been without power for a few days now. And it’s been a pretty, pretty challenging nine months for them and it’s not getting any better,” said the 28-year-old, who is married to French tennis player Gael Monfils and gave birth to a daughter in October.

Much of the sporting world moved in February to ban athletes from Russia and Belarus – seen as a key staging area for the invasion.

In contrast, the ATP and WTA – the governing organizations for men’s and women’s tennis – have never banned athletes from the two countries.

“In tennis, nothing has been done against these athletes representing these countries,” said Svitolina, who added that she and her compatriots had “several conversations” with both the ATP and WTA about the war.

“Eventually we stopped trying because it was just impossible to convince them to change their minds.”

Last week, the ATP fined the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) £820,000 ($1 million) for barring male players from Russia and Belarus from this year’s summer grass court events, months after the WTA had also hit the organizers of Wimbledon and the British tennis authorities with fines.

The ATP has maintained that a “unilateral decision” by members to exclude players from the two countries could set a potentially dangerous precedent. The WTA has said that individual athletes should not be prevented from participating because of their country of origin.

“Of course other tournaments will not do the same because they are afraid of the sanctions,” said the winner of the 2018 WTA Finals. “England (has) always been a huge help to the Ukrainian people and it is very sad to see this step .”

The 16-time singles title winner routinely wore Ukraine’s colors on court before taking time off for pregnancy, and after taking bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, she wants more accolades to come to her country in 2023 – and beyond bring.

“My main goal is to compete in the Olympics and hopefully bring back a medal for Ukraine,” she said.

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