By Karolos Grohmann
PARIS (Reuters) – Ukraine tennis player Elina Svitolina will not shake the hands of Russian and Belarusian opponents out of respect for the soldiers fighting on the front line following Moscow’s invasion of her country last year, she said on Friday.
Svitolina, who reached the French Open fourth round on Friday with a win over Anna Blinkova of Russia, refused to shake hands with her opponent and was booed by some of the fans.
“It started with the Ukrainian government that went to the meetings with the Russian government,” Svitolina said.
“They (Ukraine) were against shaking the hands because they’re not sharing the same values, obviously, and what the Russians are doing to our country.”
“We are Ukrainians, all united for one goal of winning this war. We do anything that is required.”
The Ukrainian 28-year-old has repeatedly called for all Russian and Belarusian tennis players to be banned from international competition over the 2022 invasion, which Moscow calls a ‘special military operation’.
“I am Ukrainian. I am standing for my country, doing anything possible to support men and women who are right now in the front line fighting for our land, our country,” Svitolina said.
“Can you imagine the guy or girl in the front line looking at me and I am acting like nothing is happening?”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been supported by Belarus that has acted as a staging ground for Russian troops and weapons.
“I represent my country. I have a voice and I have my position in this war. What the Russian government and soldiers are doing is really terrible,” Svitolina said. “We are all united, Ukrainians, and this is our position.”
The act of refusing a handshake will most likely be repeated in a few days’ time when the Ukrainian faces Russia’s ninth-seeded Daria Kasatkina in the fourth round.
Kasatkina, who has left Russia, has been critical of the war, calling it a “nightmare” and understanding Ukrainians’ decision not to shake hands.
“I’m thankful to Dasha (Kasatkina) for taking this position. That’s what you expect from others, as well. It’s really brave from her,” Svitolina said.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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