Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovski who defeated Roger Federer in 2013 has taken up arms to take on the Russian army.
He is now a volunteer on a military patrol in Kyiv. Ranked 116 in the world, the 36-year-old with patrols Maidan Square, a symbol of Ukraine’s “fight for democracy”.
He was armed with a Kalashnikov, a pistol in his belt, and his 1.93 metre (6 ft 4 in) frame dressed in khaki camouflage.
“I cannot say that I feel comfortable around a rifle. I am not sure how I am going to react to shooting at somebody. I wish I would never have to be preoccupied with these things,”,” he told a news agency.
It’s been just over two weeks since he returned to Ukraine and signed up for the territorial brigade, the volunteers tasked with helping the army against the Russian invasion launched on February 24.
On the eve of the invasion, Stakhovsky was on holiday in Dubai with his wife and three children aged four, six, and eight, having hung up his racquet as a professional player in January after the Australian Open.
The next day, after seeing the television images of Russian bombs falling on his homeland, he said he was plunged into a mixture of “despair” and “misery”.
Much of his family still lived in Ukraine. He spent the next three days at the hotel in a blur as he tried to get information about the situation on the ground, to find shelter for people
“I was full of adrenaline, I slept three or four hours (overall), I didn’t eat,” he said.
He then told his wife he had decided to go back. “My wife was really upset, I mean, she knew, she understood but she was really upset,” he said. But “now she understands that I couldn’t do it other way”.
The heartbreaking decision torments him every time he thinks of his family. “Leaving the kids is not something I’m proud of. My kids don’t know that I’m here, well, they know that I’m not at home, but they don’t know what war is and I’m trying to not get them involved. I told them I’d be right back, it’s been 15 days now… And God knows how many more it’s going to be,” he said.
Like all Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60, Stakhovsky is eligible for a call-up by the army and cannot leave the country when the country is at war.
The former tennis pro now carries out two patrols a day lasting two hours each to guard the center of Kyiv from possible infiltrations, particularly around the palace of President Volodymyr Zelensky, the hero of the resistance against Moscow.
“Listen, I am here on foot patrolling,” he said.
Among those are “hundreds” of professional tennis players who have not forgotten their former colleague, who rose to a world ranking of 31 in 2010 and was an unofficial spokesman for junior players.