Daily Egyptian

Tennis player journeys from Ukraine

By Austin Miller

Imagine living in a country during times of civil unrest and seeing hundreds of people be killed. Then imagine another country invading your home and warring with your countrymen.

This was life for Yana Golovkina, a 16-year-old freshman tennis player from Zaporozhye, Ukraine.

Golovkina said she played tennis for 12 years in Ukraine. She traveled across Europe, playing matches in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. She trained for three to four hours each day with the goal of becoming a professional tennis player.

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She said this was her usual routine, up until late last year when protests against the Ukrainian government began.

She said Ukraine has had economic problems since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. Citizens began protesting former President Viktor Yanukovych, who wanted to sign an economic agreement with Russia, instead of the European Union. Protesters, including Golovkina and her family, took to the capital city of Kiev to demand it align with the EU and protest any further involvement with Russia.

One protest in February resulted in more than 100 dead protesters at the hands of police, according to a CNN article.

“I saw dead people,” Golovkina said. “I saw blood and people being shot. Every day people were dying.”

She said the violence caused her tennis club fees to almost double, and reduced her father’s income. Those factors decreased the amount of practice she could have.

Head coach Audra Anderson said she began to follow the news closer after violence erupted.

“Before it got big, she was already committed,” Anderson said. “I wanted to make sure she was safe and I was trying to follow it as much as I could, but I didn’t know as much as she did.”

Golovkina said she focused on making it through her last year of school so she could play at an American university, which was her goal. She said tennis was her release from the violence.

“I was trying not to think about [what was going on] and I was trying to stay positive,” she said. “I was really scared and I just wanted to hurry up and come here. It’s really tough there, now.”

She said she tries to stay in contact with her family through daily Skype calls and emails. She said she is worried about her family because their home is 300 miles east of the Russian border and in the middle of Russian soldiers, who are coming to fight the Ukrainian military.

“I’m really scared that my brother, who is 20, will be taken by the Ukrainian Army to fight,” Golovkina said.

She said she was not sure how many of her teammates knew about her country’s conflict, but they have taken an interest in it after meeting her.

One teammate, Polina Dozortseva, a sophomore from Russia, knows the conflict well. Dozortseva said she and Golovkina have kept politics out of their relationship.

“I’m Russian and she’s Ukrainian, but that doesn’t matter to us,” she said. “We aren’t in control of what our countries are doing, so we just put that aside.”

Golovkina said she hopes her teammates and classmates can learn more about Ukraine.

“Ukrainian people are very patriotic people. They are really fighting for their country. Ukraine has such a rich history and culture that people should know about.”

Austin Miller can be reached at [email protected],on Twitter at @AMiller_DEor at 536-3311 ext. 265

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