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Elina Svitolina: Ukrainian tennis player on a ‘mission’ to help a war-torn country

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The 27-year-old, who is in regular contact with her family and friends in Ukraine, has taken a break from tennis to focus her efforts on fundraising and raising awareness of her country’s plight.

“It is extremely difficult because they [her family] they tell their stories,” Svitolina told CNN Sport.

“I talk to my grandmother every day to find out how she feels. It is quite difficult for her because for older people it is more important to have a routine, and right now there are a lot of bombings and shootings in Odessa, in my hometown.

“It is important to be in contact with her every day to support her in any way I can.

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“One of the most important things is also to keep your spirits up.”

Elina Svitolina wants to use her platform to help Ukraine.

UNITED24

Svitolina was born in Odessa, a strategically important port city that has been blockaded by Russian forces since the invasion.

He then moved to Kharkiv when he was 12 years old and says he felt helpless watching the fierce fighting that continued to rock the eastern city.

At the age of 16, Svitolina left Ukraine to pursue her sporting ambitions, but she always had her country at heart. She is proud of her roots and smiles as she recalls moments from her childhood that helped form such a strong bond with Ukraine.

Tennis star Elina Svitolina says all the prize money she wins at the Monterrey Open will go to the Ukrainian military
Now he has channeled that love into his own foundation, which encourages children to learn life lessons through tennis, and into UNITED24, an organization created by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with the goal of raising funds for medical supplies, defense and, finally, the reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure.

Svitolina was recently appointed ambassador and spoke with Zelensky who tasked her with uniting the sports community and raising awareness.

“It was one of the times when I was most stressed, and even walking onto the tennis court I wasn’t that stressed,” Svitolina said, speaking about her Zoom call with the president and fellow ambassador, Ukrainian football great Andriy Shevchenko.

“But he was very kind and his speech was very inspiring. […] what he does, it takes a lot of courage.

“He just explained what Ukraine really needs these days and how he sees the situation in Ukraine at the moment. He is still very, very motivated and loves Ukraine and will die for our country.”

“And this is definitely something that all Ukrainians are looking for, this kind of person who gives his life for the country.”

It’s still early days, but Svitolina is already planning events, especially in the tennis community, for later this year and says the foundations have given her a clear purpose.

The pregnancy

In the midst of the darkness, there has been some light. Svitolina found out that she was pregnant just before the invasion began and is expecting a baby with her partner and tennis partner Gael Monfils.

It is what, together with the mental exhaustion caused by the invasion, made her take a break from the sport that she had tried to continue practicing.

“It was a pretty stressful couple of months at first, but yeah, I feel a lot better,” he said.

“Of course, I am still very, very sad about the situation that is going on right now and knowing how many people have lost their lives due to the invasion.

“It makes me really sad. And that’s why I try to, you know, focus a little bit on my foundation, on UNITED24, just to have a mission that I can help with anyway.”

While he still has no motivation to return to tennis, he has a long-term goal of representing his country at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

She knows, perhaps more than most, how unifying the sport can be in times of such heartbreak and hardship, as Ukraine’s national football team’s powerful World Cup qualifying campaign demonstrated.

“It’s very important that people provide some kind of different information because, to be fair, I don’t understand 100% what is really happening in Ukraine,” he said.

“It’s very, very difficult for people to go through hell every day. For people who are still in Ukraine, they have mental problems.”

“There’s a lot, a lot going on and they’ve been through a lot already, so I think to bring something different, it’s something that I think delights them.”

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