‘I wasn’t sure if I could kill a Russian soldier at the start… but now I wouldn’t hesitate’: Ukrainian Wimbledon star condemns Putin’s troops after seeing aftermath of Bucha massacre
- He has been ranked as high as 31 in the world and played in the Australian Open
- He was deployed to the suburbs of Kyiv when Vladimir launched his invasion
- Stakhovsky is part of a security team seeking evidence of Russian war crimes
A Ukrainian tennis star has condemned Russian troops after seeing the horror in Bucha, saying: ‘The things they have done there, they cannot be human.’
Sergiy Stakhovsky, who has been ranked as high as 31 in the world and who played in the Australian Open in January, joined the Ukrainian army when Vladimir Putin launched his invasion.
He was deployed to the northern suburbs of the capital Kyiv, where he saw the gruesome aftermath of the Russian occupation.
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, he said: ‘At the start of this, they asked me what I would do if I saw a Russian soldier, how I would react, if I would shoot. And I honestly didn’t know.
‘But having been in that place, I can say I would not hesitate.’
Sergiy Stakhovsky, who has been ranked as high as 31 in the world and who played in the Australian Open in January, joined the Ukrainian army when Vladimir Putin launched his invasion
The 36-year-old added: ‘The things they have done there, they cannot be human. You haven’t seen half of what is real there on your TV. They are sadists, they aren’t human.
‘It’s one thing when someone presses a button 200 kilometres away and the missile lands on a train station killing children. It’s something else when someone is holding a gun to a child’s head and shooting, or burning the bodies of women they raped.’
Stakhovsky is part of a security team deployed with a prosecutor seeking evidence of Russian war crimes, and the tool of his trade is now more likely to be an anti-tank missile launcher supplied by Britain than a tennis racket. ‘We are very grateful to Great Britain for the military support,’ he said.
‘Britain has stood out. I trained on the NLAW (Next-generation Light Anti-tank Weapon missile), although I haven’t shot one. That helped us stop the Russians. I was in a unit that was firing them. The success rate was extremely high.’
Asked if he has seen any enemy soldiers killed, he said: ‘I would rather not comment.’ But he acknowledges the impact of the past two months. ‘Those images [from Bucha] are going to stay with me for a long period… I hope I am going to be able to give them up.’
Patrolling Kyiv and other cities could hardly be more different from Centre Court at Wimbledon, where he famously defeated the then defending champion Roger Federer in 2013, ending the Swiss player’s record run of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals.
He was deployed to the northern suburbs of the capital Kyiv, where he saw the gruesome aftermath of the Russian occupation
‘I went to Kharkiv for three nights doing an escort. That was very different to Kyiv, there was shelling and bombs landing 500 metres away with the building shaking,’ he said.
‘At first there was fear, but it’s strange how you can get used to war, you can get used to everything. You know a rocket can land anywhere in the country. I played some tennis in Kharkiv, and I could hear bombs exploding – that was different. Professional tennis seems ages away now. It is surreal.’
Stakhovsky was given a break to spend time with his wife and children in Hungary, but has now returned to western Ukraine and will this week go to Kyiv, where he is organising consignments of bullet-proof vests, gloves and boots.
He was surprised when the All England Club controversially announced that it was banning Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tournament.
Patrolling Kyiv and other cities could hardly be more different from Centre Court at Wimbledon, where he famously defeated the then defending champion Roger Federer in 2013
‘I cannot say it was a joyful reaction but it is something I believe should be done,’ he said. ‘In the first two weeks of the war I was more laid back about it, thinking that every individual should be judged based on their stance. But we know how the Russian troops are behaving in the occupied cities.
‘We know what they can do – slaughter, rape, torture. So I’m sorry, I now have a different view.’
When the war began, he received messages from fellow players, including Russians who confided that they were privately opposed to Putin’s invasion.
Former Ukrainian tennis man Sergiy Stakhovsky talks with AFP journalists at Independence Square in Kyiv
‘In the first two weeks, I had a lot of messages. Pretty much all of them said that privately they were against the war. At first, I answered to all the players but then the messages became overwhelming.’
It is perhaps hardly surprising given what he witnessed in Bucha, now a byword for Russian barbarity, that his sympathy for the Russians and Belarusians with whom he once shared a locker room has evaporated.
Urging them to speak out, he said: ‘You cannot be neutral. If they are scared about financial repercussions or spending a night in jail, well I’m sorry, that is still better than a rocket landing on your doorstep.’
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