Tearful Svitolina wears black ribbon at Wimbledon after Ukraine hospital attack

Tearful day: Elina Svitolina wears a black ribbon in her win over China's Wang Xinyu (ANDREJ ISAKOVIC)
Tearful day: Elina Svitolina wears a black ribbon in her win over China's Wang Xinyu (ANDREJ ISAKOVIC)

Ukraine's Elina Svitolina wore a black ribbon and broke down in tears as she made the Wimbledon quarter-finals on Monday, hours after a Russian missile barrage killed 36 people and ripped open a children's hospital in Kyiv.

The tennis star said she hoped her win would at least provide "a small light" in the aftermath of an attack described by the French foreign ministry as "barbaric".

Svitolina's sombre ribbon stood out dramatically on her white playing shirt as she completed a straight-sets win over Wang Xinyu of China.

"It's a very difficult day today for all Ukraine people," said the 29-year-old Svitolina, who wept as she conducted a TV interview on court.

As she attempted to compose herself, she received a lengthy round of applause from spectators on Court Two.

"It was not easy to focus on the match. Since this morning it has been very difficult to read the news and go on court.

"So I was happy to play today and get the win. It was a good performance from my side. Thanks to everyone for their support."

Ukrainian officials said 33 people were killed and another 137 wounded in the wave of 38 missiles fired by Russia. Three more were killed by Russian fire in Pokrovsk in eastern Ukraine.

Dozens of volunteers, doctors and rescue workers dug through debris of a part of Okhmatdyt paediatric hospital in Kyiv in a desperate search for survivors after the rare day-time bombardment, according to AFP journalists at the scene.

Svitolina, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 2023, said she hoped her win on Monday "was a small light that brought a happy moment for the Ukrainian people" even if she had intially been reluctant to take to the court.

"I just wanted to be in my room, just be there with my emotions," she said.

"You see the images and everything that happened. So many kids lost their lives."

- 'Powerful as governments' -

Svitolina said the attacks helped motivate her on Monday.

"I'm playing such an amazing event as Wimbledon. I have to think about how I can use that in a way for the Ukrainian people.

"I had to show up and do my best, my very best. Every Ukrainian is using their own way to raise awareness, my way is tennis."

She added: "I feel like we are almost as powerful as some people who are representing our government. I feel honoured to be one of the faces of Ukraine."

Two-time semi-finalist Svitolina's 6-2, 6-1 win took her into a quarter-final clash with Russian-born Elena Rybakina, the 2022 champion who represents Kazakhstan.

Rybakina switched allegiance from Russia in 2018.

Svitolina, in line with all Ukraine players, refuses to shake hands with Russian opponents but insisted she will offer her hand to Rybakina when they clash.

"She changed her nationality, so it means she doesn't want to represent her original country," said Svitolina.

Svitolina added that her career, which involves months of travelling and playing around the world, has left her conflicted since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

"We feel guilt that we feel happy, not only because I'm in the quarter-final of a Grand Slam, but in everything," she said.

"Like you go to holidays, you feel guilty because you're not in Ukraine. Many people cannot leave the country. Many people are at the war. Many people are fighting, defending our front lines.

"We've been living with this feeling for over two years. It's not a pleasant feeling."

dj/jw