“I’m comfortable with weapons. I can shoot, not perfect but for sure I can hit a person if I see one and I’m more confident.“
Former Ukraine tennis star Alexandr Dolgopolov has explained his decision to defend his country in the ongoing conflict with Russia.
The 33-year-old took to social media on Wednesday to reveal that he had returned to Kyiv ready to fight, having initially fled to Turkey with his mother and sister at the start of the aggression.
In an exclusive interview with Eurosport, Dolgopolov revealed he had undergone weapons training in preparation, and explained his motivation to go back to Ukraine following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of his country.
“It was my decision and no one can stop me with my decisions. My father was sad. It was tough when we split. He was very worried and obviously no one wanted me to be here.
“But that’s the reality. It’s war. What can we do? I’m sure that no one from our guys wants to die or be in this war, but it’s our land.”
Dolgopolov spoke of ‘panic’ in the early days of the Russian invasion and how he felt the need to get his family away to the relative safety of Turkey, but equally felt compelled to come back at some stage.
“I preferred to stay out of the country. And if something happened, I could really help in the social media way because I have many followers from around the world to show the truth because I have access to all the information inside the country.
“I thought I would be more useful outside of the country for the first few days because obviously I’m not in the army, I’m not going to be the first one fighting. And then after a few days, once it settled down, the fights got understandable where we were doing good, where we were doing not very good. And then I started to plan to go back.
“I had no idea how to hold a weapon, so I found a shooting place and I was lucky that there was an ex-military professional, who taught me for five, six or seven days.
“So now I’m comfortable with weapons. I can shoot, not perfectly but for sure I can hit a person if I see one and I’m more confident. And then I set up coming back.”
Dolgopolov believes his profile and that of other well-known stars inside and outside of sport is important in raising awareness of the war and calls on others to join him defending the nation.
“The soldiers are fighting but they need to know what they’re fighting for. If everyone leaves the country, leaves their homes and there’s an empty city just of soldiers, how are they going to really have the motivation to fight until the end?
“I think it’s important that famous people and well-known people show that Ukrainians are supporting the army. Even if they’re not fighting, they can find money, they can speak in the media, they can bring food, medical stuff. Whatever anyone can do is helpful.
“I think that being here really sends a message and I see many guys from sports or singers and all kinds of famous people from our country have stayed or are coming back to help out.”
From a sporting perspective, many organisations have chosen to ban Russian athletes during the ongoing war but tennis has taken an different approach.
Right now, Russian players, as well as those from Belarus, are allowed to compete on both the ATP and WTA tours but not under their nations’ respective flags.
There have been suggestions these players – including men’s world no. 1 Daniil Medvedev – may have to provide assurances they aren’t supportive of Russian president Vladimir Putin in order to participate at Wimbledon.
Dolgopolov says stricter actions are needed in the sport, even if that means a blanket ban on all players from the country.
“The tennis players, you see their speeches are really, really careful. They are not saying ‘we condemn the war of our army, our government’, they’re just saying ‘we are against war’.
“For me this is not enough when such things are happening.
“For me tennis is being quite soft and too neutral. We can see what soccer did. They just banned all their teams. They’re not playing anymore.
“Soccer and many sports have done that and that’s the right thing to do. Obviously I understand for the tennis players it’s not their fault, but at this point with the amount of victims of this war, every Russian is responsible until they stop their president.”