Wimbledon 2022: Tsurenko's tales of the horrors of Ukraine war serve jarring reminder

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·3-min read
Wimbledon 2022: Tsurenko's tales of the horrors of Ukraine war serve jarring reminder
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By Paul Eddison

As you stroll around the All England Club and enjoy some strawberries and cream, perhaps a pitcher of Pimm’s and take in some of the world’s best tennis players in action on pristine grass courts, it is easy to believe the world ceases to exist outside Wimbledon.

Five minutes listening to Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko and you suddenly realise that the tennis, the pomp and everything else associated with SW19 is not that important after all.

Who really cares whether Rafael Nadal can claim a 23rd Grand Slam title? Does it matter if Novak Djokovic can move within a Wimbledon title of Roger Federer’s all-time men's record? Blasphemous as it might seem, would a fairytale ending to Andy Murray’s comeback even register compared to what is going on in the Ukraine?

At 33, Tsurenko is sadly all too accustomed to the horrors of war. She was four when she and her family had to move from Georgia to the Ukraine after a Russian invasion back in 1992. The ongoing siege is still impacting her personally on a daily basis.

She explained: “My family lived in Georgia. In 1993, on the New Year night, from 1992 to 1993, we escaped from Georgia, because it was a war there.

“This war was made by Russia, so for me it’s the second time when kind of my family is affected by Russian government, by the actions of Russian government.

“So it's 28 years. I'm 33. So we escaped when I was four years old. It should be stopped.”

Monday’s attack on a shopping centre in Kremenchuk was particularly painful for Tsurenko, who came from a set down to beat compatriot Anhelina Kalinina and reach the third round for the first time here.

How she can even focus on her tennis is impossible to fathom. Between the guilt and the pain, sport seems trivial as she tried to find out what had happened to those closest to her.

“The horrible things that are going on in Ukraine in the last week, a terrorist act, a lot of civilians dead,” added Tsurenko, who wore a yellow and blue ribbon after receiving permission from the Wimbledon authorities.

“And especially it's very painful for me to see that Russian propaganda is just saying that, for example, that shopping mall in Kremenchuk was not working.

“That's a lie, because my fitness coach, he's from that city. His mother-in-law works in this shopping centre, and she was lucky that she had a day off.

“Him and his father, they were not far away from that place. I think he got like some piece (of shrapnel) in his head. The father fell down because of the wave.

“It's just horrible what is going on in Ukraine. I just, I feel terrible, and I feel very guilty, and I feel that it seems like there is nothing I can do.”

At least 20 people were killed by the missile strikes in Kremenchuk while the UN this week reported that more than 12 million people have been forced to flee their homes since the invasion began in February.

So while it is easy to get lost in the permutations of what the lack of ranking points means to the battle to become world No.1, or whether the absence of the likes of Daniil Medvedev and Aryna Sabalenka detracts from this year’s Wimbledon, the truth is, it doesn’t.

People will continue to enjoy the tennis but there are more important things happening in the world and Tsurenko called on everyone to help if they can.

She said: “If there is something that every person in this world can do, I think it's good if they do it. If they think that to donate $10 means nothing, no, it's not true. It means a lot.

“In the main city of my region, Mykolaiv region, they don't have water for few months already. So if you think that $10 is nothing, it’s ten bottles of water for these people.”

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