Maria Ulitina had always dreamed about playing at the YONEX All England. When the opportunity came on Wednesday, though, there were many other things on her mind. With her country in turmoil and thoughts of the safety of her family, the Ukrainian could manage only token resistance against China’s He Bing Jiao.
Ulitina had left her war-affected country a week ago to her longtime club in Hungary with only the barest of her possessions. She talked of how the war had thrown her life into disarray; she admitted the future was uncertain, but for now, she addressed the importance of having played her first All England:
“I’m happy to be at this dream tournament. I always dreamed to be here and I’m happy to be here but I never thought it will happen under this situation. I’m sad that being here, I was not ready physically, I was not ready mentally, so it’s really hard, but I’m happy that I can play under the Ukrainian flag in these times.
“Emotionally it was very hard, because I would have liked to show my game, to fight harder, but I was simply not ready, especially for such a great opponent like He Bing Jiao.”
Through these traumatic times, badminton, she said, had helped her cope. The decision to play at the All England was taken after discussions with her family and federation.
“My federation said players have to be safe, we have to continue to play for the country and do our job. Badminton is a big family and all the Ukrainian players received a lot of help, it’s amazing and I’m happy to be part of such a big family. Of course when you’re going to train, your mind is on that, so that helps. For now, my family is safe, but you never know.
“Everybody is trying to help all they can, but it’s a difficult situation because I had to leave my home. I have a pet dog and a cat and it’s hard to find a place to leave them. Hopefully I can stay in Hungary because it was my club for many years, and they’re trying to help and I hope I can stay there.”