Ukrainian Elina Svitolina says that Russian and Belarusian players should talk about war

PARIS – Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina wants Russian and Belarusian tennis players to say if they oppose the war in her country.

“For us, for Ukrainians, it’s very important that they speak out, that they choose which side to turn to. We want to know, we want to feel safe about that. Because if they don’t say what they think about it, we don’t,” Svitolina told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I don’t know whether they support their government or not, whether they support the work of the army.” “Because sports in Russia and Belarus are big propaganda.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Svitolina also spoke about mental health and feeling overwhelmed by the pain of war.

Mental stress led to the former third-placed Ukrainian’s decision to take a break from tennis. The stress also exacerbated persistent back problems, she said.

“For me, it was really tough two months mentally to hold everything on my shoulders. That’s why it was a better decision to take my time to really settle down,” she said. “To be on top of the game, you have to be 100% mentally and physically fit. For me it wasn’t like that.”

Wimbledon, which begins on June 27, has banned players from Russia and Belarus due to the war. The French Open, which begins on May 22, allows players to compete as neutrals. For Svitolina, it is more about breaking the silence.

“I feel like they need to talk about their position, it’s very important. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a major league or [another] “I think that every Russian and Belarusian athlete should take his position, so that we know that there are no bad people among us,” she said.

Svitolina, 27, was asked if any Russian and Belarusian players had personally told her that they were against war.

“Very few. It is very sad because so many athletes from different countries came to us and showed us their support,” Svitolina said. “That’s why it really hurts us and we don’t understand exactly why [Russian and Belarusian players] he did not do “.

The war is now in its eleventh week. Kyiv bogged down in the quagmire of opposing forces but Russia bombed the port of Odessa.

“For the past few days there have been shootings and explosions in Odessa, my hometown,” Svitolina said. “I can’t even imagine what people are going through in Ukraine, what my family is going through.”

Although Ukraine is resisting a better-armed Russian army, millions of Ukrainians have fled the war-torn country.

“The first week was the hardest week of my life,” Svitolina said. “I was very worried about all the people in Ukraine, about my family, and what would happen next. Every minute there was some new information.”

Svitolina, who is married to French tennis player Gael Monfils, will miss the French Open, where she has reached the quarter-finals three times. She has not said if she will play at Wimbledon, where she reached the semi-finals in 2019.

But given what Ukraine is going through, tennis is not her focus.

“I have a lot of things on my plate now,” she said. “I have my foundation, I try to do my best for people in need. This is the priority, the foundation, my family.”

Her foundation helps Ukrainian children who have fled.

“We are doing everything we can to raise money for Ukrainian children. I want to keep their dreams alive, even though they have been through hard times,” Svitolina said. “Some of the children got a chance to escape. We now have children who are enrolled in academies in Europe. We pay for their training, food and accommodation.”

Svitolina met each other in France.

“I hope to meet everyone,” she said. “I will do everything in my power to pay attention to every child and give them that little extra motivation they need these days.”

But Svitolina also suffers mentally and finds ways not to be overwhelmed by the war.

“I take my time during the day to turn off my phone. It really helps me to be calmer,” said Svitolina, who consults with a psychiatrist.

“We talk a lot, we figure something out every time we talk, and we find ways,” Svitolina said. “to [the psychologist] It was also hard for her to see me so sad.”

Svitolina was among several speakers who discussed mental health in sport at a conference in Paris on Wednesday.

“I totally agree that mental health is something that has been overlooked. A lot of athletes go through a lot of trouble and a lot of tough moments with injuries, performance and pressure from the media,” she said. “It’s important that you talk about it, that you talk about your own story. I feel like it wasn’t the case [done] enough before.”

Prominent personalities such as tennis player Naomi Osaka and Formula 1 CEO Toto Wolff of Mercedes have spoken publicly about mental health.

“It’s very good that he’s becoming more open now,” Svitolina said. “I think it’s very important for some people to hear it out loud like Naomi Osaka did.” “Some people want to share their stories. I prefer talking to a psychologist, with my family. There is no right or wrong way. You need to find the one that works for you.”

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