Tennis star Sergiy Stakhovsky is back in his homeland to join the fight against the Russians

Tennis star Sergiy Stakhovsky is back in his homeland to join the fight against the Russians

He made the difficult decision to leave his wife and three young children at home in Hungary and return to his native country to join the fight. He is now a member of the army reservists who help defend the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

As a Russian military convoy closes in on the city and fear hangs in the air, Stakhovsky, 36, says he’s ready to do whatever it takes. He told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on Thursday his goal was to help save Ukraine for its citizens and children.

“I was born here, my grandparents are buried here and I wish I had a story to tell my children,” he said. “No one here wants Russia to set them free, they have freedom and democracy…and Russia wants to bring despair and poverty.”

Stakhovsky had retired from professional tennis weeks earlier at the Australian Open, ending an 18-year career. Now he is cowering with his fellow civilian soldiers in Kyiv – and struggling with his decision.

He feels guilty for leaving his family

Once the 31st ranked male player in the world, Stakhovsky once beat Roger Federer in a major upset at Wimbledon in 2013.
In January, he played his last professional match at the Australian Open. Now its retirement days involve fear and uncertainty, listening to the sirens of air raids and explosions at all hours.

Stakhovsky said he believes people like him – untrained in warfare but fiercely patriotic – make up a large part of the fighters defending Ukraine.

But he said letting his wife and children put themselves in danger was not an easy decision.

“It’s impossible to make this call without hesitation. I have a wife and three children,” he said. “If I stayed at home, I would feel guilty that I didn’t come back (to Ukraine), and now that I’m here, I feel guilty that I left them at home.”

His wife is also struggling with her decision, he said.

“Of course she was crazy,” he said. “She understood the reason for me, but for her it was a betrayal. And I completely understand why she feels that way.”

He said they didn’t tell their children, all under the age of 7, who probably thought he was in a tennis tournament.

“My wife hasn’t told them and I haven’t told them… where I’m going,” he said. “I guess they’ll find out soon.”

He is one of many famous Ukrainian athletes to have joined the fight against Russia

The Ukrainian government asked men between the ages of 18 and 60 to fight against the Russian invasion.

Other sports stars, including Yuri Vernydubcoach of FC Sheriff Tiraspol in a Moldavian football league, returned to Ukraine and took up arms. So have champion boxers Oleksandr Usyk and Vasiliy Lomachenko.

“If they want to take my life, or the life of my loved ones, I will have to,” Usyk told CNN from a basement in Kyiv. “But I don’t want that. I don’t want to shoot, I don’t want to kill anyone, but if they kill me, I won’t have a choice.”

Stakhovsky faces similar fears and prays that he makes it out alive and returns to his family. Civilian fighters like him in Ukraine received “a basic course in how to shoot,” he told CNN. “I think people like me will be the last resort.”

And while he hopes he doesn’t have to shoot anyone, he said he will if necessary.

“I’m not sure there is a single individual who is ready to tell you right now if he is ready to sacrifice his life. I want to see my children…I want to see my wife, that’s my goal “, did he declare. “If a missile enters the house, does it sacrifice your life? No. It’s just being killed.”

He hopes that when his children find out the truth about his fate, they will understand why he chose to fight for his homeland.

“Because a country that I love… I would like it to be always on the map, to develop, to become better, to become more European, and that eventually my children can see the transformation of my country.”