By Bill Simons
Sergiy Stakhovsky is a good tennis player. His net-charging power game sent Roger Federer packing at Wimbledon last year. But the well-spoken Ukrainian is an even better patriot, who in March poignantly spoke out for justice in his homeland. Inside Tennis caught up with Stakhovsky—who suffered a back injury and lost his first-round match—at the French Open.
Are you proud that you made that statement about your homeland?
I don’t know whether I’m proud of making any statements. I’m just happy I can make them. Some of you people will publish it because I’m apparently a tennis player. But it’s not a matter of being proud, it’s just about being honest about what happened in my country, and what should not happen in any other country in any other circumstance.
You said the hardest thing was watching the upheaval from a distance. Have you gone back?
No, not recently. But my family is still there. Since then, it actually became worse. We have a small civil war in [the Eastern] two parts of the Ukraine. Hopefully it will be over soon because of the new presidential election. The new president [Oleksandr Turchynov] was elected Sunday, so we are very delighted to have, let’s say, a legitimate president, finally. And he is educated and the first Ukrainian president to speak English fluently.
And it’s said he makes good chocolate?
Yes, apparently. We are going to be swimming in chocolate. But honestly, I am very happy that our country did make a choice, a clear choice—with 55% of the votes, it was more than enough [to avoid a run-off]. I hope he will prove to be the right man for the job.
Back in March you said that the people accused the rebels of being terrorists or Nazis.
I think you can answer your question if you just look at the vote in the presidential elections. The right, right wings, which are the right sector and the freedom party, they got less than 2.5% in total, together, which means if we have fascists … [Robin Norwich] who is from more of a Jewish community than from the Ukraine got a higher percent than the right radicals. Does that answer your question?
In the demonstrations, more than a hundred people died. Is that the price of progress, of moving forward, or—
I don’t think any country should pay that price. Not one human life is worth the power of being minister, or president, or something else. It’s just not worth it. There is no amount of money that is worth a human life.
This has obviously been a huge struggle. You have talked about all the corruption that has been going on. Do you think that in the future, that there is a chance for a better life, a better government in the Ukraine?
Well, that was the goal of the revolution. If it will happen, very tough to say. From what I’ve heard, but not experienced myself, the prices of government services [i.e. bribery] since the Revolution almost doubled, because the people in government know that their term is very short, and that they will be soon sent into retirement, so they slightly increased the prices of their services. So, at the moment this is not the direction the people wanted. Now that we have a new legitimate president, he did say that the new parliamentary elections should take place this year. When the new government and the new parliament is formed, if the corruption is still in place, then all of this was for nothing.
Hopefully the corruption will be much less than it is … I think a country without government corruption just doesn’t exist. But if our country will have corruption within those limits of the European Union, or the United States, or of any country, any civilized country— we’re not talking about Russia here—then I think the Revolution would have succeeded.
In your call for justice back in March, you said that you hoped that your part of the world would get over these divisions and that there will be a time of peace. But it’s been a very rugged time since then. Do you think it’s possible to have peace and justice? Are things going in the right direction?
On the one hand, I believe we will have peaceful parts of the Ukraine soon enough. I believe that the Eastern parts will be very soon cleaned out of the separatists that are coming out of Russia and Chechnya, a reality which has been confirmed.
They’re not local.
No, they’re not local. They are coming over the border, fully equipped. And they confirmed in the cameras that they are from Chechnya.
Were you surprised Putin pulled back?
Do you think he pulled back? All those troops that crossed the border from Russia into the Ukraine, how could they pass? If you crossed the border with a gun … It’s one thing that they passed the Ukrainian border, but they have to pass the Russian border first. How did they pass the border? I wouldn’t say Putin retreated; he just played a clean hand.
The problem for the country is going to be that until our government can finalize what is going to happen with Crimea, it’s not going to be a peaceful time, because constitutionally, in international law, any sort of evidence which [warrants] the separation of a piece of our country, and adding it to another country—if that was sovereign territory, they would have a referendum whether they wanted to be the sovereign country of Crimea, that’s one thing. But they actually bolted and went away to the other country. I think this is a precedent that never happened. Well, actually it did happen during the second World War, when Hitler was around.
It’s hard to know for sure from America, but was the election for Crimea to join Russia legitimate?
My position is: A, it was unconstitutional; and B, it was impossible for it to be legitimate. Let’s say you have 30,000 troops from Ukraine coming to Winston Salem, North Carolina, and have a referendum in North Carolina that they want to join the Ukraine. How do you think that would end? Logically, you cannot have a referendum with 30,000 troops blocking the Ukrainian forces and police.
So what did you think of the video calling for peace that Alexandr Dolgopolov made with Rafa Nadal, Gael Monfils, and Andy Murray?
Well, peace in the Ukraine is what we wanted, but that is not what we got. That’s not what we got from Russia.
So you’re saying it’s going to be long?
I’m saying it’s going to be very long and painful for both countries to come back to some point where the relationship of the countries is constructive.
In the locker room, was there anyone who was particularly supportive, or who came up to you and shared some thoughts?
It’s kind of hard. I talked to Novak [Djokovic] about it. He was saying it was similar to Kosova, and I agree with that. But Kosova wanted to be completely independent from everyone else. Crimea went to Russia, so … it’s hard to compare. The people are supportive but it’s getting too long now. In the beginning I was getting a lot messages with their concerns, but people are getting tired of it. And I would also like it to be all over.
How has it impacted your tennis?
I don’t know if I would lie, or I would say the truth, or I would say if it’s a lot, because I cannot judge. I can just judge that my involvement in the struggle—watching the media, watching the news, and trying to get some information—was a lot. And that was not good for my game. I tried to stay out of it for the past two weeks actually, and it actually did work. I believe I played really well before I got injured. I was hitting well because I was preparing here for a week. I came here on Tuesday to prepare for the French Open. I was feeling really well, very confident. I believe that every person should do what he does and do it in the best way, and that is the only way one can support one’s country, and to represent it in the stage of tennis, and to prove that we have good sports.
That’s a big role and a big opportunity. Not all athletes do that, so congratulations.