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Svitolina gives reasons for not shaking hands with Russians at French Open

May 22, 2023

Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina said her respect for her country's soldiers in the war against Russia was key to her decision not to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian players at the French Open.

Svitolina chose not to shake hands with Russia's Anna Blinkova following her 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory in the third round of the women's singles in Paris.

Other Ukrainian players have also opted to take such a stance after facing players from Russia and Belarus who have been allowed to compete as neutrals on the tennis circuit.

"It started with the Ukrainian Government that went to the meetings with the Russian Government," said Svitolina in a report by English newspaper The Independent.

"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.

"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.

"Can you imagine the guy or girl in the front line looking at me and I am acting like nothing is happening?"

Svitolina is making her first appearance at a Grand Slam in 16 months having taken time out following the birth of her first child.

The 28-year-old had stepped away from the sport shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russian ninth seed Daria Kasatkina is Svitolina's fourth-round opponent.

Kasatkina has previously stated that Ukrainians have good reason not to shake hands with opposition from her country due to the ongoing war which she has bene an outspoken critic of.

"I’m thankful to Dasha for taking this position," said Svitolina.

"That's what you expect from others, as well. It's really brave from her."

Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk was booed off the court after she refused to shake hands with Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka following her first-round defeat in Paris.

Kostyuk said "people should be embarrassed" after their reaction to her handshake snub of the world number two who stated that her opponent "didn't deserve to leave the court that way".

Following her victories in the first and second rounds, Sabalenka has faced questions from a Ukrainian journalist about the war in Ukraine.

Sabalenka was due to face the media again following her third-round 6-2, 6-2 win over Kamilla Rakhimova of France but refused to attend, citing mental health concerns.

A transcript of her conversation with a group of reporters handpicked by the tournament organisers was released instead.

"For many months now I have answered these questions at tournaments and been very clear in my feelings and my thoughts," said Sabalenka.

"These questions do not bother me after my matches.

"I know that I have to provide answers to the media on things not related to my tennis or my matches, but on Wednesday I did not feel safe in press conference.

"I should be able to feel safe when I do interviews with the journalists after my matches.

"For my own mental health and well-being, I have decided to take myself out of this situation today, and the tournament has supported me in this decision.

"It hasn't been an easy few days, and now my focus is continue to play well here in Paris."

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Geoff Berkeley is the chief senior reporter at After joining Midlands-based newspaper publisher Bullivant Media in 2011, Geoff rose through the ranks to become editor of the Malvern Observer and sports editor of several other weekly titles. He then went on to be appointed as the Worcester Warriors correspondent for the Worcester News where he was nominated for Sports Journalist of the Year at the Midlands Media Awards in 2016 and 2017. He also had a spell at Sportsbeat in 2020.

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