Marta Kostyuk: Tennis star asks ‘What am I living for?’ as Ukrainians struggle with the toll of Russian invasion

Sometimes there is just too much emotional turmoil and pain to comprehend as 19-year-old Kyiv-born Kostyuk reflects on the impact of the Russian invasion on her country and fellow Ukrainian players.

“Right now there is something indescribable, I would say, because a tennis player’s parent has died,” Kostyuk told CNN Sport. “A tennis player’s house is completely destroyed,” she said.

Kostyuk’s own mental health has also taken a hit.

“It was extremely difficult, the first week or two,” she told CNN in a phone interview earlier this month.

“It’s been two months and you know it’s been up and down, it’s changing. I’m trying to orient myself a bit, just trying to see where I stand. I’m trying to feel myself and trying to figure myself out.” She added.

Kostyuk is well aware of the importance of managing her emotions and says she worked with a psychologist.

“I started a few weeks ago, that helps me a lot. But you know, sometimes it’s scary to a certain extent, the thoughts that come to you,” Kostyuk added.

“I don’t want to say the words because you know you can find out what I’m trying to talk about.

“Because there are so many things happening at this point, you have to carry so much at once that you just think I can’t handle it anymore.

“I’m just wondering, where is the point where this is all going? It never ends, now what should I do with my life? What am I living for?” she said.

Marta Kostyuk is the world No. 60 in singles and No. 74 in doubles.

“I shouldn’t be silent”

What helped Kostyuk and gave her purpose is trying to educate people about the war in Ukraine.

“Everyone does it differently, but the only goal I have is not to feel like a victim in this situation,” she said.

“Because I’m not and I don’t position myself that way. For the first two weeks [of the invasion]I had this feeling like I’m a victim, like, I don’t know what to do because I rarely feel like this in my life.

“And that was the turning point for me in changing that mindset of not being a victim,” she said.

“I shouldn’t be silent. I should say what I think. I shouldn’t be screaming at the top of my lungs like please help us. We say explicitly where we need help.

“I’m still a tennis player and I still want to compete. I don’t want to hurt myself. I don’t want to go to certain points where I’m just, ‘You know what? I’m done.” I can’t play tennis at this point…I can’t do anything.

Kostyuk is one of several Ukrainian players who have called on Russian and Belarusian athletes to denounce the Russian government’s decision to invade Ukraine if they want to compete in international competitions.

“Huge Responsibility”

Earlier this month, Wimbledon organizers announced that Russian and Belarusian players would not be allowed to take part in this year’s edition following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Twenty-time Grand Slam champion from Serbia Novak Djokovic has criticized the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from Wimbledon this year, calling the move “crazy”.

Meanwhile, Russian tennis star Andrey Rublev said the ban was “illogical” and amounted to “outright discrimination”.

Speaking at a media conference on Tuesday, Ian Hewitt, the chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), which runs Wimbledon, said: “It is not discrimination in the form that is said, it is a considered view of what is achieved among all circumstances is the right and responsible decision.”

In a Twitter post in early April, Kostyuk said, “As athletes, we live lives in the public eye and therefore have a tremendous responsibility… In times of crisis, silence means agreeing with what is happening.”

Alongside Kostyuk, Ukrainian players Elina Svitolina and Sergiy Stakhovsky are also among those calling on the WTA, ITF and ATP to call on players of those two nationalities to condemn the invasion.

“Within the tour we are alone”

Kostyuk told CNN that critics of her stance have argued that “tennis players … have nothing to do with politics.”

“I don’t understand, what’s the point of separating these two things? It’s a big system in which we circle. One cannot live without the other and vice versa,” she said.

“Well for me [the idea that] ‘sport is out of politics.’ Honestly, for so many years, the opposite has been proven,” she said.

“We’re trying to talk about the fact that none of the players actually came up to us and spoke to us to try to help in any way,” she said.

“We used to be friends with a lot of players. I’m not friends with anyone anymore like a single player,” she said.

“We know that the whole world is trying to support us [Ukraine]. Everyone knows what’s going on is wrong. And yet we are alone within the tour,” she said.

Kostyuk plays a shot in a match against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus on day two of the Dubai Duty Free tennis tournament, February 15, 2022.

In response to Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from this year’s tournament, the WTA distanced itself from the AELTC’s decision.

“The WTA strongly condemns the measures taken by Russia and its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

“We continue our humanitarian relief efforts to support Ukraine through Tennis Plays for Peace,” the organization said in a statement, adding that they were “very disappointed” with the decision by AELTC and the Lawn Tennis Association, which is also a Ban announced will prevent Belarusian and Russian athletes from participating in their events.

“A fundamental principle of the WTA is that individual athletes can compete in professional tennis events on the basis of their merit and without any form of discrimination,” they added.

The ATP took a similar position, saying the decision was “unfair and has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game”.

“Discrimination based on nationality is also a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon, which states that player registration is based solely on the ATP rankings,” they added.

“It is important to emphasize that players from Russia and Belarus will still be allowed to compete in ATP events under the neutral flag, a position previously shared in professional tennis.”

“Everyone has a choice”

However, Kostyuk said she believes Russian and Belarusian players have a responsibility to take a stand on the invasion if they don’t support it.

“Russian tennis players, some of them don’t really live in Russia. [They] have the right to take their family and move out and say what they really think is right when they feel they should speak out.

“Nevertheless, they don’t do it. They had enough time for that, let’s be honest,” she added.

“Everyone has to make a choice. There are a number of tennis players who have resources to take their family out of the country. And yet they don’t. I do not know why

“I wouldn’t want to live in a country that doesn’t allow me to express myself, that doesn’t allow me to live my life, that doesn’t want my family to be in danger because of my actions

“So we’re trying to force them to speak out anyway, like even if you support this invasion, speak up about it; just speak your mind publicly. But they know that if they do, they will be out of a job,” she said.