Sergiy Stakhovsky offers perspective on crisis in native Ukraine
To be or not to be ...
That is the question I ask myself on a daily basis. As a professional tennis player, I must compete in different countries. Last week, it was Dubai. This week, it is the United States for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. Do I try not to think about the crisis in my native Ukraine? Do I return to the country I represent and show my position regarding the revolution and Russia's military action? Or do I compromise and keep playing -- trying to concentrate on the job as best I can -- while staying aware of what's happening in my homeland?
I've chosen to compromise: My life consists of playing tennis and gathering information about the situation in Ukraine. I wish people would understand that my country stood up not because of a European Union agreement but because we couldn't take it anymore, especially the corruption in every level of government -- judges, police, lawmakers. Consider this: The former chief of police is said to have issued plastic business cards with the flag of Ukraine on one side and his contact details on the other. He was selling these cards for $2,000 each and 1,000 were made. During a police stop, you would just show this card and they would let you go no matter what rule you had violated.
Without a demonstration that we were tired of the corruption, nothing would change. This was a way of life. But then on Nov. 29, riot police were cleaning the Independence Square in Kiev with excessive force. Many students were beat up so badly that they were hospitalized. That started a path to the point of no return. The next day, thousands of people protested against violence and to show the government that they (we) are unhappy when they are treated like animals. Unfortunately, our government officials were out of touch with reality, out of touch with this world. With their lifestyle and money, it's not that hard to see why.
In December, during my preseason training, I watched the Russian TV channels and saw how they described the events in Ukraine. I can put my hand on my heart and say that 80 percent of the information on Russian TV about Ukraine in these past three month has been a LIE. Many may not know that Ukraine is actually a poor country (same as Russia), with an average GDP per capita of about $6,400 in 2012, according to Businessweek.com. The majority of the population does not use the Internet. The only information they get is either from TV or newspapers. So their opinion on the situation is based on what they see on TV and that picture is not reflective of reality.
In early February, I was in Ukraine as part of the Davis Cup team that played Romania in Dnepropetrovsk. My coach didn't want to travel there. I had to assure him again and again that it was safe. Every day, we passed by a place with pro-government demonstrations -- and it was almost empty, maybe 100 people at most. People were living their lives and not much had changed. After we finished playing, I returned to Kiev following the first clash of self-defense units and riot police. My brother and I went to the very heart of the Euromaidan -- the civil demonstrations -- and it was all peaceful and calm. People sang the national anthem at midnight each day.
But Feb. 20, the day the crisis escalated, changed the history of my country. The price of 70 dead is just too high. Nothing can cost more then human life. Not money. Not power. The price my countrymen have paid for this change is too high to go unnoticed. They were dying with the hope for a better future -- a future where a president is responsible for his acts, his country and his people. Where a president is not living the life of a billionaire out of people's money. Where the law is above all. Where dignity and decency are valued. Where bribery is not business as usual.
In light of the Russians' move on Crimea, the circumstances are just getting worse. When my country thought that it could breathe freely, we are now being held hostage by a country we trusted the most.
I don't agree with all of the Euromaiden's statements and movements. But I am sure that the revolution was the only way to change my country. Crimea is a part of Ukraine, and we are protected by Great Britain and the United States with a Budapest memorandum.
There will be people who will try to put Ukraine on the path of "nationalism." But we are patriots and not "Nazis" or "terrorists," as Russian media call us. Our parliament needs to stabilize the situation and leave -- they've been around for too long and it's always the same story. The only political figure at this moment who is more or less clear is boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko. But it's up to the people to determine who they want to trust with their lives.
The worst part is to watch it from a distance. It still feels that whatever I say, it's just words from the outside. Many friends all over the world have e-mailed to express concern about my family and its safety. I replied that there is no danger at all -- or there wasn't until Russia invaded Crimea. It's never a good feeling when your country is on every newscast and the front page of every newspaper daily. Then again, I am thankful to the international media (not Russian) for showing the real picture and real reasons for the Ukraine Revolution.
And I will play on.
Sergiy Stakhovsky, 28, a professional tennis player since 2003, is ranked No. 83 in singles on the ATP Tour. Follow him on Twitter @Stako_tennis.