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He Once Beat Federer; Then He Fought Russians in Ukraine

Photo: Sergiy Stakhovsky/Instagram

“Happy are those who dare courageously to defend what they love.” 

Sergiy Stakhovsky had beaten Roger Federer in Wimbledon in 2013, and he has had a comfortable life with his Russian wife and kids in Budapest. But in 2022, the year he retired from professional tennis, he returned to his homeland of Ukraine to serve as volunteer in the war. 

Sergiy Stakhovsky’s story is a real war drama, crying for a cinematic interpretation: Sergiy left behind his life of affluence in Budapest to fight for his home country in Kyiv. His three children and wife Anfisa, a former character in a reality series who created the brand Anfisa Beauty, stayed in Budapest when the war began. 

Stakhovsky told his story to Hungarian news portal

The tennis player explained that his wife is a Hungarian citizen whose parents arrived in the country in 1992, and the two of them spent a lot of time in Hungary together, building his career in the world of professional tennis. 

Sergiy and Anfisa were on holiday with their children in February when the war broke out. We asked him what his reaction was when he first heard the news of the Russian invasion. 

They were in Dubai, when at 6:00 a.m. local time, he received a message from his parents from Kyiv: there were explosions all around. His friends informed him that the war had begun. Sergiy and Anfisa immediately turned on the television and were struck with the images of war. 

I didn’t want to believe it, I hardly managed to grasp what was happening. I was shocked by the images before understanding what they really meant. I felt anger and fear. I was furious. It was absurd, the whole thing. I was on the phone 24/7, watching the news to understand what was going on, whether my parents were still all right, how close the Russians got to Kyiv, and so on. I was absorbing information without a stop. It was very hard, the first forty-eight hours, without any sleep.

When he left for Kyiv a few days later, rattled, he did not have a specific goal. He simply wanted to see what was going on in his country, in Kyiv. The next step only became clear for him there. “By then I fully understood it was a time of war, with a real war going on,” he explains.

I knew I had to take up arms and do anything to defend my country. And this was what I did. I was assigned to the Territorial Defence Forces, and served at checkpoints, receiving orders as to what I should do, and when I have to do it, and how I have to do it. Essentially, I was checking vehicles and documents for eight weeks. This was my main job for eight weeks.

What did he see and experience in war-torn Ukraine? “I saw things I should not have seen,” he says, adding,

I was in Bucha right after the Russians pulled out. I saw what the Russian troops left behind. I saw terrifying things. Things that help you understand that this war is not only against the military, against the soldiers, but also against the civilian population. They went there to kill people. This was such a profound experience, such an intense thing, that right there I understood and made a decision, deep down, on what I would do when I caught sight of Russian soldiers.

After spending two months as a volunteer, Sergiy Stakhovsky returned to Hungary, primarily for the sake of his wife and their children. His wife is Russian, but there is no war-induced conflict within the family: they share all the pain caused by the invasion.