MELBOURNE, Australia — A Ukrainian player refusing to shake the hand of a Russian or Belarusian at the net has become a common sight on the tennis tours over the past two years.
For those Ukrainian players competing at the Australian Open in Melbourne, it’s a gesture that has more meaning than ever.
“This is another reminder about the fact that there is a war in my country,” Lesia Tsurenko said Friday, after her match with Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus. “I do this for Ukraine. And I think this is the right thing.”
Two years on from the start of the invasion, the war continues, but with Ukraine slipping down the news agenda, players are worried that their cause is being forgotten.
“The worst thing is that you get too used to it,” Dayana Yastremska told reporters in Melbourne this week. “And this is very bad. Because most of the people are forgetting what is going on there.
“We know about everything because we receive the news, we are reading, we are into it, [but] the words are not hitting that hard like it was when the war just started. I think it’s important to remember about it and do everything.”
Kostyuk said journalists need to keep the news alive.
“They want the drama, they wanted news, they wanted all this heating between players and everything,” she said. “The war is still there. People are still dying every day. I still don’t understand what all these [Russian and Belarusian] players are doing here.”
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the plight of Ukrainian players was uppermost in everyone’s minds, with Wimbledon banning Russian and Belarusian players from competing that year and numerous fundraising events held around the tennis world.
However, the ATP and WTA tours decided to allow individuals from those countries to compete, albeit not under their country’s flag. Wimbledon lifted its ban in 2023, under pressure of sanction against Britain’s grass-court events.
Since the war began, Ukrainian players have made a point of not shaking the hands of Russians and Belarusians, sometimes to the confusion of crowds, who have blamed the loser.
At Wimbledon last summer, Belarusian player