After learning how to handle weapons, the man who reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2011 will try to support the Ukrainian army. And to use his status to be heard. In particular, Dolgopolov calls for greater determination towards the Russians, including the athletes.
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Alexandr Dolgopolov, when did you arrive in Kiev?
Alexandr Dolgopolov: I arrived on Wednesday. I am in the center of Kiev, where I normally live. I’m staying with a friend because I just arrived and I feel more comfortable with a friend.
How do you feel ? Have you been to the city? Is this the city you knew or is it completely different now?
Alexander Dolgopolov: I did not arrive at the best time because there is a curfew and no one is allowed out for two days due to the presence of Russian groups trying to enter the city. No one is allowed to walk on the street. If you’re on the street, you might come across as a Russian.
So I had to ask my friends to pick me up with guns and take me to the apartment. Otherwise I should have stayed in the metro station. And I didn’t really want to stay there for 24 hours after traveling. But other than that I didn’t see much damage because I was in the center.
I know they hit some big apartment blocks somewhere today. In the city center I saw many destroyed and burnt out army cars. Obviously we feel the war is there. There is not a single person or car on the street. It looks a bit like an abandoned city. A rocket flew in the sky, near my friend’s house.
Where were you when the war started?
AD: At first I thought I’d be more useful outside of the country, especially to show the truth, because I’m clearly not part of the military. I couldn’t be the first to fight. And then after a few days, when it had calmed down, the fighting became understandable. So I started planning my return.
I didn’t know how to hold a gun. I found a shooting range and was lucky enough to meet a former military professional there, who taught me everything for a few days. Now I am familiar with weapons. It’s not perfect, but I can touch a person, I’m more confident.
Before returning to Kiev, we bought things our army needed, thermal binoculars, binoculars, targets for sniper rifles… We crossed Croatia and then Hungary, Slovenia and Poland. Then I took the train to Kiev.
How did you feel when you crossed the border and saw these people trying to flee the country?
AD: There are clearly more people trying to leave the country than to enter. But there is no problem at the border, it is quite safe there, even if the Russian army struck with missiles 20 km from the Polish border the day I arrived.
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You see that there is war because the roads are guarded by gunmen, even though there are no Russian troops on this side of Ukraine. I entered quite freely and was able to continue on my way.
How did your family react when you made the decision to return to Ukraine?
AD: It’s my decision and no one can stop me. My father, whom I saw at the border, was sad. It was hard when we broke up. He was very concerned and it was clear that nobody wanted me there. But that’s the reality. It’s the war.
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What can we do ? Many are in the same situation as me. I’m sure none of our boys want to die or go to war, but this is our country. To me, what the Russians are doing is not a war. War is when one army fights another army. Very recently they bombed houses in Mariupol where there were hundreds of civilians. Civilians lose their lives. So I had to be here.
You shouldn’t be a soldier. You were a tennis player.
AD: Yes, but soldiers need to know why they are fighting. If everyone leaves the country, leaves their homes and the cities are empty, how will they have the motivation to fight to the end?
I think it’s important that famous people and famous people show that Ukrainians support the army, even if they don’t fight in the front row. They find money, they talk in the media, they bring food, they bring medical care… Anything anyone can do helps.
Credit: Getty Images
Of course anyone can make excuses. I might find a reason why I’m more useful outside of the country. But I think it really sends a message to be here. I see many athletes, singers, famous people from our country who have stayed or come back to help.
What are you going to do in the coming days?
AD: I go out with my boyfriend to help out with body armor, food, driving around town to see if there are any special needs. I will also speak to the press. And above all help. I will talk to people I know who are on the battlefield, and whatever they ask me, I will try to help them. This is my main goal and my role for the coming days and weeks. I don’t know how long it will take.
What message would you like to convey?
AD: First of all, thanks for the support. We see it. We’ve seen all these protests and it’s great that the world is supporting us. Of course we would like the Europeans, Americans and Canadians to push their governments a little more.
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There are things we don’t have. We don’t have any fighter jets. We don’t have enough protection for our air. The Russians are bombing us from the air. NATO does not want to help us because it is afraid of another world war. But we have to protect ourselves and we need these weapons. We are ready to fight, but we need weapons to protect our skies. That is the main message we want to convey.
One last question, which may seem superficial to you. What do you think about the sanctions that can be taken against Russian tennis players?
AD: But it’s not about politics anymore. It’s the war. It is not hundreds of people who die, but thousands. So there is no more politics. For me, Russia should be isolated like North Korea. Every Russian has to pay the price. It is their government, which has been in power for 20 years, that is behind all this. And they haven’t changed that.
They fought in Georgia, in Syria, now in Ukraine. We have reached a point where all Russians are responsible for what is happening. What is being done to change this is not enough. Russian tennis players say they are against the war, but their speeches are very cautious. They don’t say:we condemn the actions of our army and government.” They say : “we are against war†
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That’s not enough for me. I think the tennis authorities are too neutral. Just look at what has been done in football, for example. All teams are suspended. Other sports have done the same and I think this is the right decision. I know this is all not the fault of the players. But the Russians are responsible until they arrest their president.
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