Tennis star Elina Svitolina on a mission to lift Ukraine’s fallen spirits

Organisers of Wimbledon considered asking Russian and Belarusian players to denounce Vladimir Putin in order to play but instead opted for an outright ban

<p>Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina has taken a break from tennis </p>

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina has taken a break from tennis

Elina Svitolina is on “a mission” to lift the spirits of the people of Ukraine suffering at the hands of Vladimir Putin’s war.

The 27-year-old former world No3 has taken a break from tennis to recover from injury as well as taking time to support her country following the Russian invasion.

Svitolina has set up a foundation encouraging children to learn life lessons through tennis, and teamed up with UNITED24, an organisation set up by the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky – who recently named Svitolina a national ambassador – which raises funds for medical equipment, military defence and the rebuilding of the country’s battered infrastructure.

“Of course, I’m still very, very sad about the situation that is happening right now and knowing how many people have lost their lives because of the invasion,” Svitolina told CNN Sport. “It makes me very sad. And that’s why I try to, you know, to focus a little bit on my foundation, on the UNITED24, just to have a mission that I can help in anyway.”

She added: “It’s extremely tough because [my family] tell their stories. I speak with my grandmother every day to know how she feels. It’s quite tough for her because for elderly people it’s most important to have a routine and, right now, there is lots of bombing and shooting going on in Odessa, in my hometown.

“It is important to stay in touch everyday with her to support her in any way that I can. One of the most important things as well is to keep their spirits up.”

Before Wimbledon, Svitolina saidplayers from Russia and Belarus should be allowed to compete if they denounce Putin and the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine.

She called on tennis authorities to take a tougher stance on players from Russia and Belarus but says she does not want them to be banned completely unless they do not speak out against the invasion.

Wimbledon have gone against the position take by the ATP and WTA by becoming the first tournament to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at this year’s Championships.

Players from the two countries have been able to compete under neutral flags in both the ATP and WTA tours since the war in Ukraine began, and the ATP reacted by calling Wimbledon’s decision as “unfair”.

“We don’t want them banned completely,” Svitolina told the BBC. “If players don’t speak out against the Russian government then it is the right thing to ban them.

“We just want them to speak up, if they are with us and the rest of the world or the Russian government. This is for me the main point. If they didn’t choose, they didn’t vote for this government, then it’s fair they should be allowed to play and compete.”

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