Tennis player Lyudmyla Kichenok, from Ukraine, is ranked 16th in the world in doubles, where she has played with Jelena Ostapenko for several months. She and the Latvian made it to the semifinals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and they also won the Birmingham trophy and advanced to the Eastbourne final between the two Grand Slams. A native of Dnipropetrovsk, a city about 500 kilometers south of Kyiv, the 29-year-old woman spoke to Suspilne.media about her experiences fleeing to Moldova by car, as well as those of her family and friends, as well as the WTA psychologists who have helped her. The war and the ensuing drama continue, even though the headlines have been replaced by other news and we have become a bit addicted to it as is always the case. As a result, the Ukrainian Tennis Federation’s Twitter account has relayed her words to us.
“Apocalyptic warnings from my older sister Nadiia preceded her husband’s departure from Ukraine on February 22. I told her not to worry about anything because I did not think it was true.
“A few days later, my mother woke me up with the news that Nadiia had called from the United States to inform me that while I was sleeping, a suburb of Kyiv called Borypsil was being shelled. I was in shock for two hours, shaking uncontrollably, and it was terrifying. As I tell you this, I am shaking all over again. My mother worked in Severynivka (in Bucha district), one of the city’s most sought-after districts. My parents had intended to remain, and they only agreed to accompany me on my departure.
“We took a car and I drove for 36 hours straight without stopping. I had no idea the human body could do that. For a week, I did not get any rest. On a train for refugees, mothers and children, I traveled to Iasi, Romania. When you see it, you get a different perspective on life. The way Romanians greeted us also left an impression on me. Tea and other necessities were provided by a large number of volunteers at the station.
“Indian Wells was the next stop on my itinerary. When my body would not let me train, I did not know what to do. For a period of twelve days, I did nothing. While I was in a state of shock, those around me appeared to be having a good time and acting normally. Asked questions, WTA psychologists were unsure of what was going on. So many female players reached out to me asking for advice. My fear of forgetting some of the names is why I am not mentioning them. There were many, but it was all very perplexing at the time.
“After that, we learned that my 63-year-old father had returned to his native Ukraine. He wanted to join the territorial defense forces in Kyiv, but they did not accept him because there were enough people, so he helps as a volunteer.
“Take a walk around the block at home. In the height of summer, Kyiv is a sight to behold. I desire to return to my previous lifestyle. There is no ‘before’ anymore, but I have faith in the future. Since I am confident that Ukraine will triumph from the outset, I intend to exert every effort on our behalf.
“From the beginning, Jelena Ostapenko was there for me, helping me when I was in Riga with her. Jelena went out of her way to make me happy. I do not have to explain anything to her; she is fully aware of what is happening. We are now preparing for the tournaments in the United States.
“When Ukraine played in BJK Cup, it was not that we played “against” the U.S., but it was more to raise funds for our country. They welcomed us with open arms. We had a strong desire to win that match, almost an obsession. We gave it our all, because we were representing Ukraine in the competition.
In the tennis environment, most people did not understand what is going on. When Russian and Belarusian athletes were disqualified at Wimbledon, things went more smoothly. Those who disagree with the ban should keep up with current events, in my opinion. I wish I had done so sooner, and I am sorry about it. Then it dawned on me that perhaps something is afoot. With so many resources available, it is now more than ever a good idea.
“Irpin’s Ukrainian Federation of Tennis Center was bombed in April. It is hard to see sports facilities destroyed. I am disgusted by the injustice. At the time of Russia’s missile attack on the mall in Kremenchuk, one of my athletic trainers was there. Consequently, when I read that Ukraine should give up, I do not get it.
“When I learned that my other trainer had been kidnapped, I was devastated. During the occupation of Vorsel in the Kyiv region, they were trapped in the basement for 37 days. The Russians broke into his home and stole everything from his clothes to the kitchen cups. We were able to assist a friend in Austria with the help of Nadiia.