Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine refused to shake hands with Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on Thursday night, casting a cloud over the US Open due to the hostility surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

They tapped their rackets after Kostyuk lost in straight sets, although the action had been planned in advance. She even emailed Azarenka to let her know she wouldn’t be shaking hands.

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Kostyuk has been open in her support for a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from the game. In April, Kostyuk joined a group of Ukrainian tennis players in requesting that tennis officials question Russian and Ukrainian players about their support for the conflict and require them to repudiate it if they did not. Kostyuk and company thought the players should be barred from participating in international events if there was no denunciation.

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“There comes a time when silence is betrayal, and that time is now,” the players made the statement at that time.

Kostyuk provided an explanation for her decision not to shake hands with Azarenka on Thursday night. Azarenka had previously appeared frequently with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Despite the fact that they didn’t discuss it, she claimed to have texted Azarenka before the match.

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“It was my choice, I feel like I don’t know any single person who condemned the war publicly, and the actions of their government, so I don’t feel like I can support this. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a great competitor. But, it has nothing to do with her being a human being.”

Last week, Kostyuk was successful in getting the United States Tennis Association to prevent Azarenka from taking part in an exhibition that would have benefited the relief efforts in Ukraine.

“Imagine there is World War II and there is a fundraiser for Jewish people and a German player wants to play,” Kostyuk said.

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Azarenka was unable to comprehend the choice. “It’s a no-brainer for me, as why wouldn’t I participate in humanitarian aid for people who are really struggling right now,” she said. “I thought that this was a gesture that really shows commitment. I’m not sure why it wasn’t taken that way.”

Kostyuk finished her speech, and Azarenka’s press conference shortly followed. She claimed that during the past few months, she had contacted Ukrainian athletes via the WTA but had been urged to hold off.

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“I’ve been told it’s not a good time,” Azarenka said. “I’ve had a very clear message from the beginning, that I’m here to try to help, which I have done a lot. Maybe not something that people see. And that’s not what I do it for. I do it for people who are in need, juniors who need clothes, other people who need money or other people who need transportation or whatever. That’s what is important to me, to help people who are in need.”

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Azarenka stated that she was “open any time to listen, to try to understand, to sympathize” if Kostyuk wished to communicate with her, adding that “I believe that empathy in the moment like this is really important.”

The players from the two warring nations have had tense relations for some time. Iga Swiatek of Poland, the top-ranked athlete in the world who has denounced the invasion and organised her own fundraising events for Ukraine humanitarian efforts, remarked on Thursday, “Right now, it’s kind of too late, I think, to fix that. Right now, it’s easy to say that maybe there was a lack of leadership, but at that time I didn’t know what to do either.”