“I really hope that I give a tiny, small light” – Every Kalinina victory in Rome is a victory for Ukraine

Anhelina Kalinina hopes that her tremendous performance in Rome helps to bring a little light to her compatriots on tour and the Ukrainian people. Certainly, it is…

Anhelina Kalinina AI/Reuters/Panoramic

It’s impossible not to be aware of the pain that Ukrainian tennis players are going through.

Watching Anhelina Kalinina refuse to shake hands with Veronika Kudermetova after Friday’s hard-fought semi-final it becomes clear. Kalinina doesn’t want it to be that way, but defiantly, she knows it must.

“We didn’t shake hands because the girl is from Russia basically,” she tells reporters. “It’s no secret why I didn’t shake, because this country actually attacked Ukraine. … This is sport, I understand, but it’s also kind of political thing.”

Kalinina hopes that her remarkable run to the final in Rome, where she improbably has become the lowest-ranked women’s singles finalist at the Foro Italica since 1986, makes a difference to the people in her country – and surely it does.

“It’s really important to win every match, because of what Ukraine goes through,” Kalinina told the crowd after her win on Friday. “I really hope that I give a tiny, small light, maybe some positive emotions for my country.”

Those words give a glimpse into the courage and conviction that the Ukrainian people have displayed since Russia’s brutal invasion began in February of 2022. Each casual question posed to the 26-year-old helps paint a clearer picture of the dire situation in Ukraine.

A bomb near her parents tennis academy

“Actually few days ago, where my family is working, because my mom and dad, they’re like tennis coaches, and it was huge, huge bomb near them, near their academy,” says Kalinina, matter-of-factly, when asked about the situation with her family back home. “We have academy. Just, I don’t know, maybe 300 meters [from the] airport, and there is no [more] airport. This is how they live.”

Who knows how Kalinina has found the strength to bravely battle through the draw in Rome. She probably doesn’t even know herself. With so much burden to shoulder off the court, remarkable is a major understatement.

Kalinina outlasted Beatriz Haddad Maia in the longest match of the season in the quarter-finals, and has won her last three matches in three sets.

Clearly she is inspired by the chance to inspire, and making the most of any opportunity she can to shed some light on the situation at home, so that she can make a difference.

Kalinina, Madrid 2022
Kalinina, Madrid 2022 – © Zuma / Panoramic

Grandparents are safe now after relocation

Back home, she also helped her family relocate her grandparents, who were living in Russian occupied Nova Kakhovka (her hometown) until the situation became untenable.

“Two months maybe ago, before my grandmother and grandfather, they were in Nova Kakhovka, this is currently occupied territory by Russian soldiers,” she said. “But they were able to go immediately when it was attacked. So currently my whole family is in Kyiv.”

It must be crushing to see your hometown suffer such a cruel fate, but Kalinina is more focused on the safety of her family, whatever it takes.

“I have no connections with Nova Kakhovka any more because everyone is in Kyiv,” she said. “I’m super happy because it’s absolutely impossible to stay, to live, because there was so much weapon, so much soldiers near my grandmother and grandfather house. It was absolutely not possible to live, to stay.”

Given all that we know and continue to learn about the struggles of Kalinina’s family, it’s obvious that her run to the final is no ordinary triumph. It is the product of courage, a testament to the steel of Kalinina and her family (and the Ukrainian people), that they can all defiantly press on in the most excruciating circumstances.

Her achievement demands that we stand up and take notice, that we too contemplate the atrocities that continue to occur with alarming regularity, and let it inspire us to do what we can to bring her heroism to light.

What the Ukrainians are going through isn’t normal, and it isn’t right. But it is reality, unfortunately.

“No, it’s not a normal life,” Kalinina said of her grandparents. “Yeah, when the bomb came directly to their house, but it was a little bit maybe, I don’t know, couple of meters left, not exactly in their apartment, but left. They kind of wake up and realised, ‘Oh, my God, yeah, we have to move.'”

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