For 13-year-old Polina Shostak, tennis has proved an escape from war engulfing her home country of Ukraine.
Born in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city and located just 19 miles south of the Russia–Ukraine border, Shostak recalls the harrowing memories of her city being attacked during the Battle of Kharkiv that began in February.
“We would all sleep downstairs in my friends’ underground floor of the house, and the men in the house would take turns watching upstairs to see what was going on outside,” Shostak recalled. “I remember trying to sleep upstairs, but I couldn’t because I could feel the walls shaking and hear the sounds of explosions and war. We didn’t have electricity or hot water for some time. It was bad.”
After safely fleeing Ukraine in March, Shostak and her family lived with a family friend before staying in an apartment in Elkridge, MD. Shostak’s mother, Olena, then contacted JTCC for a tennis evaluation, and Director of Champs II, James Carr, was eager to oblige.
“All of us here at JTCC wanted to do anything we could to help Polina and her family in any way possible,” Carr said. “Her attitude and resilience with everything going on in Ukraine was remarkable. She always had a smile on her face and tennis is her outlet where she could have fun and meet new people.”
From June to July, Shostak participated in the Sectional Champs summer training program working on her fundamentals and tournament preparation. Part of the Ukrainian Tennis Federation, Shostak has been playing tennis for five years with aspirations to play in college.
“Tennis is a nice escape for me. When I play tennis, I’m thinking about the strategy and playing my game,” Shostak said. “I don’t think about what is going on back home because I need to focus. I think about it afterwards and try to understand what is happening, but while I’m at JTCC, I focus on my tennis.”
On July 12, Shostak and her family left the United States to live in Europe. With hopes of one day being able to go back to live in Ukraine safely, Shostak is still reminded me of the harsh realities back home.
“The Ukrainian Tennis Federation made a post showing all their courts destroyed, and it is crazy because I played there,” Shostak said. “The Ukrainian people want to win, and you fight hard when you are in a war. I hope to be able to go back and live there with my family once it is over.”