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US Open: Ukraine’s Kostyuk refuses Azarenka’s handshake amid war

Belarusian tennis player Victoria Azarenka (L) and Marta Kostyuk (R) of Ukraine did not shake hands on Thursday following their match. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Ukrainian tennis player Marta Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Victoria Azarenka after falling to the Belarusian in straight sets Thursday in the second round of the US Open.

Instead, she offered a quick racket tap.

Kostyuk called it her choice not to shake Azarenka’s hand, citing her unhappiness about Russian and Belarusian players’ silence amid the war in her home country.

“I don’t feel like I don’t know any single person who condemned the war publicly, and the actions of their government, so I don’t feel like I can support this,” she told ESPN. “Don’t get me wrong, she’s a great competitor, I respect her as an athlete. But, it has nothing to do with her being a human being.”

She said also that she had texted Azarenka to “warn her” that she wouldn’t shake her hand, noting that she would like to have a broader conversation with the Belarusian regarding her thoughts on the war. They have not yet had such a conversation, as Azarenka was not on-site at the time.

While Azarenka has not reached out to her about having a conversation since the war began, Kostyuk said she believes that Azarenka could and should use her platform to condemn the war.

Azarenka has prominent reach both in Belarus and as a part of the WTA’s Players’ Council.

According to Azarenka, she’s reached out via the WTA to have conversations with Ukrainian athletes that she is not close with about the war but had been told “it’s not a good time.”

“I’m open to any time to listen, to try to understand, to sympathize. I believe that empathy in the moment like this is really important, which has, again, been my clear message in the beginning,” she said, noting that she’s always just been there to help after calling for peace soon after the invasion.

“I’m here to try to help, which I have done a lot,” she continued. “Maybe not something that people see. And that’s not what I do it for. I do it for people who [are] in need, juniors who need clothes, other people who need money or other people who needed transportation or whatever. That’s what is important to me, to help people are in need.

“​​I’m going to stand by that because what’s happening in the world is very difficult right now, but we shouldn’t forget we’re all human and we should treat each other that way.”

The former world No. 1 added that she is always open to listening to players like Kostyuk.

“I can’t force people to do something they don’t want to do,” she said. “But anytime, she has my number. Whatever I can do to help people, I don’t play political games. I don’t play media games. That’s not what I’m here for.”

This isn’t the first time that a Ukrainian player has refused to shake hands with Azarenka. Dayana Yastremska also refused a handshake after her match with Azarenka at the Citi Open in Washington in early August.

When asked how it felt to have been refused a handshake for a second time, Azarenka noted that it’s “not the most important thing in the world right now.”

“It is what it is,” she said. “I just move on. I cannot force somebody to shake my hand.”

Last week, Azarenka was removed from the USTA’s Peace for Ukraine event, which was meant to raise funds for Ukraine. Kostyuk had expressed her discomfort with the Belarusian’s participation in an interview with BTU, a Ukrainian news outlet.

“Imagine there is World War II and there is a fundraiser for Jewish people and a German player wants to play,” Kostyuk said.

Azarenka, meanwhile, said she immediately agreed to participate in the event, calling it a “no-brainer.”

“Like, why wouldn’t I participate in a humanitarian aid for people who are really struggling right now?” she said. “It’s not even a thought for me at that moment. When you’re asking ‘You’re not doing enough, you’re not saying enough.’ I thought that this was a gesture that really shows commitment. I’m not sure why it wasn’t taken that way.”