The Washington Post

Russian female tennis player criticizes conflict in Ukraine

Kasatkina says she is gay in emotional interview, ‘wants the war to end’

- BY ANNABELLE TIMSIT

Daria Kasatkina, Russia’s highest-ranked female tennis player, came out as gay and criticized the war in Ukraine in an unusually candid interview that highlighte­d the difficulti­es top athletes face in navigating the repercussi­ons of the conflict — at home and abroad.

Kasatkina, 25, touched on two of the most sensitive topics in Russia — Ukraine and LGBTQ rights — in a wide-ranging conversati­on with Russian blogger Vitya Kravchenko that was recorded in Barcelona and released Monday on Youtube.

Kasatkina — the No. 12 player in the world — said she wanted “the war to end” and described the conflict as “a full-blown nightmare.”

She said there “hadn’t been a single day since February 24,” when Russia invaded Ukraine, that she hadn’t read or thought about the war. She expressed empathy for Ukrainian players affected by the war.

“I want to play against players who have an opportunit­y to train and prepare for tournament­s just like me, who don’t need to worry about courts being bombed and [having] nowhere to go,” she added. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to have no home — not because you haven’t bought it but because your home was taken away.”

Kasatkina is the latest Russian athlete to speak out against the war, in defiance of laws in Russia that ban anyone from criticizin­g what officials there call Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. Several other Russian tennis players have called for an end to the war, including eighthrank­ed Andrey Rublev — though many have done so in more vague terms than Kasatkina.

Acknowledg­ing the significan­ce of the stance she was taking, Kasatkina broke down in tears in one of the videos when she was asked whether she was scared she would no longer be able to go back to Russia, admitting it was something she had considered.

During the interview, Kasatkina also revealed that she has a girlfriend — a significan­t move, given that LGBTQ issues are taboo in Russia, where it has been illegal for nearly a decade to disseminat­e informatio­n to minors about “nontraditi­onal sexual relationsh­ips,” including gay relationsh­ips.

“I believe it’s important that influentia­l people from sports — or any other sphere, really — speak about it,” she said, adding that “living in the closet” would be too difficult in the long term. “It’s pointless. You’ll be constantly focused on that until you choose to come out,” she said, though she added that it was up to each person on “how to do it and how much to tell.”

She later posted a photo on social media with figure skater Natalia Zabiiako — who has competed for Russia, Estonia and Canada — and the caption “my cutie pie.”

Last year, U.s.-based nonprofit Freedom House gave Russia a score of zero when it comes to the equal treatment of minorities, including gay people, in society. “LGBT+ people are also subject to considerab­le discrimina­tion, which has worsened in the last decade,” the group wrote in its report.

Just two years ago, a constituti­onal amendment was passed defining marriage exclusivel­y as between a man and a woman. Russia also has banned PRO-LGBTQ demonstrat­ions and restricted LGBTQ advocacy groups.

When asked when she thought it would be acceptable for a samesex couple to hold hands in public in Russia, Kasatkina answered, “Never.”

Kasatkina also touched on the global debate about the inclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes in major sporting events, after many internatio­nal sports competitio­ns banned them in response to the war in Ukraine. Tennis players have been allowed to compete in many major tournament­s so long as they stay neutral on the conflict — and they cannot compete under their national flags.

However, in a move that proved controvers­ial, Wimbledon banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing altogether — including Kasatkina and many of the world’s top men’s and women’s players.

While not explicitly giving an opinion on the ban, Kasatkina said “sports is not outside of politics” but added that they “really unite” people and nations.

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