About a month and a half after the last match of Sergiy Stakhovsky’s professional tennis career, the 36-year-old Ukrainian left his wife and three young children in Hungary and returned to his birthplace to help as much as he could. could during the invasion of Russia.
“I don’t have the words to describe it. I would never imagine in my life that it would come to this – that I would be in my hometown … with a gun in my hands, ”said Stakhovsky, rubbing his left cheek with his palm during a video interview with the Associated Press of what he said was a residential building in Kiev, Ukraine’s beleaguered capital.
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“A lot of people say they wake up and hope…it was just a bad dream. But, you know, on day 16, (it) doesn’t work anymore,” he said.
“The first few days, (it’s) surreal. You don’t believe it’s actually happening. And the next thing you know, you get used to it, and you’re just trying to find a way to help your country survive. .
At age 12, contemplating a life in tennis, Stakhovsky began splitting his time between Ukraine and the Czech Republic to improve his game.
He turned pro in 2003, won four singles and four doubles titles, and won over $5 million in prize money.
Highlights include rising to the highest ATP ranking of No. 31 in 2010, reaching the third round of Grand Slams six times and achieving one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport when he ended Roger Federer’s record streak of 36 consecutive major quarter-finals. appearances beating him 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 7-5, 7-6(5) in the second round at Wimbledon in 2013.
In January, Stakhovsky quit the sport after losing to American JJ Wolf in the first round of qualifying for the Australian Open.
The retreat did not go as planned. On February 24, Russia began attacking Ukraine. In the early hours of February 28, Stakhovsky arrived in Kiev.
“You are a second safe. The next second something happens and no one is safe,” he said.
He said he had received hundreds of messages of support from members of the tennis world – players, coaches, officials – and named a few: Richard Gasquet, Lucas Pouille, Aljaz Bedene and Novak Djokovic, the 20-time Grand Prix champion. Slam whose text messages Stakhovsky shared via social networks.
Working with what he described as a branch of the Ukrainian Armed Forces which can only be used inside city premises – he said it was created “a few years ago to really support the infrastructure of the city in the event of war, which nobody actually believed, but unfortunately it happened ”- Stakhovsky said that his days were divided into two-hour shifts followed by six hours of leave.
This “free” time, he said, is often spent on what he calls humanitarian efforts.
“I’m just trying to do everything we can on a 24/7 basis,” Stakhovsky said, “because otherwise you’re going to go crazy.”
He said he still had family who lived and stayed in Kyiv, including his grandmother, father and a brother.
As for how long he will stay, Stakhovsky is not sure.
“Hopefully not long,” he said. “I hope this will be resolved fairly quickly and quickly.”
Later this month, her daughter will be eight and a son will be four; the other son is six and a half years old.
He didn’t tell them where he was going – and why – before he left.
“They are quite young and I don’t think they would understand the meaning of war. And I don’t think they would understand anything. My wife knew…but she never asked the direct question, and I never told her directly. So when… I told her ‘I’m leaving’, she started crying. So there wasn’t really a conversation,” he said.
He said that communicating with children now is not easier.
“It’s difficult to call with children, because every time they ask: ‘When are you coming?’ or ‘What are you doing?’ I’m just, ‘I don’t know, honestly.’ For me it’s not a good decision to be here and it was not the right decision to stay at home. All this is not fair,” Stakhovsky said.
“But I am here because I believe that the future of my country – and the future of my children, and the future of Europe as we know it – is in great danger. And if there is whatever I can do to change the result, I will try to do.
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