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Watch: Ukraine’s Yastremska reflects on hiding from bombs, after tennis return

Ukrainian tennis player Dayana Yastremska said she was “woken up by the bombs” during Russia’s invasion before fleeing her country last week, after playing with her younger sister in a doubles match at the WTA tournament in Lyon on Monday.

The 21-year-old and her sister Ivanna, 15, were given a wildcard into the doubles draw after escaping Ukraine, travelling by car, on foot, by boat and by plane to reach France.

They lost 6-2, 6-4 to Spaniard Georgina Garcia-Perez and Switzerland’s Xenia Knoll in the first round, but understandably their focus was on what is happening back home.

“I am very proud of my sister but at the same time, we did not have too much energy because of what is happening in Ukraine,” Dayana Yastremska, who said she went three nights without sleep, told a press conference.

Her sister did not speak to the press, but wore a Ukrainian flag on her shoulders, as she had done when walking out for the match earlier in the day.

Dayana, who reached a career-high singles ranking of 21st in 2020, received a wildcard to the Lyon tournament last Tuesday, two days before Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

“On Wednesday, we were at home in Odessa,” she said. “We were spending time with our family before making this long trip to Lyon with my father.

“The evening was pleasant, but the next morning we were woken up by bombs.

“We didn’t realise or understand what was going on… It was crazy. It wasn’t a film or a video game — we were very shocked…

“We left the apartment to take shelter in the underground car park while the bombs continued to explode.”

Dayana then recounted her journey to reach Romania and then France after her father, who stayed behind in Ukraine, decided to send his wife and two daughters away to safety.

‘I don’t know how everything will end’

“The journey took four hours to reach the Danube on the Romanian border,” she said. “We were afraid of bombs or meeting Russian tanks.

“There was a long line of cars at the border and we ended up walking. That’s where we said goodbye to our parents, because our mother said at the last minute that she was going to stay with father.

“We were shocked, but at the same time we didn’t want our father to stay alone there. Ivanna started to cry a lot and I had to keep my emotions under control because I took a big responsibility.

“My father told me ‘I don’t know how everything will end, but you have to take care of each other. You have to build your new life’.”

Ivanna Yastremska has only played four matches in her young singles career on the ITF Juniors Circuit. Dayana says it is now her responsibility to look after her younger sister.

“I’m 21 and I’m used to travelling with my mother or father who controlled everything, in a good way… But now it’s the opposite.

“Right now, Ivanna is coming with me and I have a huge responsibility. I’m proud of her — she’s just starting out in professional tennis.”

Dayana will play her first-round singles match on Tuesday, against Romania’s Ana Bogdan.

“I can’t focus on tennis but what really motivates is my country and the people from our country who are fighting for our lives,” she added.

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