September 25, 2022


With strawberries and cream, grassy slopes and a peaceful setting in leafy London, Wimbledon is a world away from Ukraine, where the bombs are still falling four months after the Russian invasion.

For the Ukrainians competing at SW19, however, the war never really leaves them.

On Wednesday, Anhelina Kalinina will face Lesia Tsurenko in an all-Ukrainian second round match which she hopes will draw attention to their country’s predicament.

Since Russia began its war in Ukraine in February, millions of refugees have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, and for Kalinina, her family is among the uprooted.

She confirmed to reporters on Monday that her parents’ house in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin had been bombed, saying “they are alive, they are safe” but “living on the bags and praying every day”.

“There are huge holes in the house, like huge holes,” she said, before revealing the family now lived with her and her husband.

“It’s a very small apartment for my family, because, like, my mom, my dad, my brother, and they have pets.

“They are so happy, and we are grateful…that they have a place to move from Irpin town because Irpin is completely bombed.”

“I help my grandmother and grandfather a lot who are now in occupied territory,” she added.

“They can’t leave. So, next to it, it’s like Russian soldiers with all their military equipment.

After Kalinina beat Anna Bondar 4-6 6-2 6-4 in the first round, she was awarded £78,000 ($96,000) to help her family. A second-round win would net a total of £120,000 ($147,000).

“I understand it’s hard to concentrate, but for me it’s important if I win or lose,” Kalinina said.

“If you go further, you make more money. So I’m able to help, and I help as much as I can and not just my family. So for me, it’s important.

His Wednesday opponent, Tsurenko, worked with a psychologist to overcome the trauma caused by the war.

While Tsurenko’s mother continues to reside in southern Ukraine, her sister now lives in Italy near her after living through three months of war in Ukraine.

“I don’t feel well,” she told reporters. “I feel really worried, especially because I know they are trying to get the only object, which is 100 meters from my house, from the building where I live.

“When the war started, I started to feel this tension inside of me… This feeling, this tension will only be released when the war is over. There’s nothing I can do about it.

In previous Grand Slams this year, Tsurenko was drawn against the eventual champion of the tournament in the first round – Ashleigh Barty at the Australian Open and Iga Swiatek at the French Open.

Tsurenko reached the quarter-finals of the US Open in 2018.

At Wimbledon, however, Tsurenko was given a more favorable first-round opponent and dispatched Britain’s Jodie Burridge in a 6-2 6-2 win.

Like Kalinina, her motivation to continue playing tennis stems from using her platform to help her country.

“I think that with all the sports people who can participate in the competitions, also with all the singers who go to Poland, to Germany and who have all the concerts, this part where the Ukrainians can just go to remind the whole world that we are here , we still have war and we need your help,” she said.

“That’s the main thing I would like to happen, that we get a lot of heavy weapons. We just want to remind [people] that Ukraine is in trouble and that we need help.

On the same day as Tsurenko’s first match at Wimbledon, the war spilled over from the front line again when a Russian airstrike hit a shopping mall in Kremenchuk, central Ukraine, killing at least 18 people .

The tennis player said the hardest part for her was knowing people on the front lines.

“A guy was taken away by Russians, so we don’t know what’s going on with him,” she said.

“We know he’s alive. Two other guys are fighting there right now, and a few people are already dead because of the war.

On Monday, the two players had not decided how to honor their country of origin during their match.

“It’s great that we meet two in the second round, and so it will be a Ukrainian in the third round,” she continued.

Tsurenko said that, if allowed, she would wear a Ukrainian ribbon on her outfit.