Anastasiia Kostiukova: overcoming adversity in war-torn Ukraine

November 07 2023

Three-time Ukraine national squash champion Anastasiia Kostiukova vividly recalls the harrowing day nearly two years ago when her country was invaded by Russian forces. "My husband and I were sleeping when the windows started shaking, and I could hear explosions. It was a very frightening experience," she recounts. Kostiukova resides on the opposite side of Kyiv from Bucha, the site of a tragic massacre of Ukrainian civilians in 2022. The area she lives was not as perilous as central Kyiv, yet the sudden invasion left her in a state of panic. "I got up and looked out, and I just didn't know what to do. I thought it was the end," she says. The date, 24th of February 2022, remains etched in her memory.

At 30 years old, Anastasiia Kostiukova should be at the pinnacle of her squash career. She holds the title of Ukrainian No.1 and had clinched her third national squash championship title in February. However, the Russian invasion had severe repercussions on her professional ranking, causing her to plummet to World No.181. Moreover, the loss of sponsorship from her American supporter has added to her challenges. To reach her next PSA Challenger tournament, she embarks on a day's journey to Warsaw, Poland, before even boarding a flight.

Anastasiia's passion for the game is evident in her relentless coaching efforts, with six days a week dedicated to funding her playing ambitions. Nevertheless, her inner demons have occasionally halted her beloved sport temporarily.

Like her nation's resilience, Anastasiia Kostiukova is determined to press on, despite the daunting prospect of potential defeat without a sponsor. She reflects on the situation in Kyiv, "Sport Life, my club in Kyiv, was closed, and no one knew what was going to happen. But then we pushed the Russians back, and the air alarms became less frequent." However, she acknowledges that the challenges persist as winter approaches. "We could be playing or I could be coaching, and the air alert will go off. At the beginning, everyone would run, but now the police say we can stay."

The ongoing uncertainty and financial constraints have raised the possibility that Anastasiia Kostiukova might have to relinquish her PSA membership by the year's end. It's a decision she's reluctant to make but acknowledges that the current circumstances are unsustainable.

Anastasiia Kostiukova discovered squash as a 19-year-old student at the University of the Marine in Odessa. Despite the late start, she achieved a career-high ranking of World No.111 seven years later before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted her progress.

Traveling on the second tier of the PSA World Tour presents unique challenges for Anastasiia Kostiukova. She undertakes her journeys alone, and for her, travel times can be three times longer than for other players. She often spends two days traveling to reach her tournament destinations, with train and plane connections. The financial burden has been exacerbated by the loss of her American sponsor, John Boyd, who had been supporting her travel but has since returned to the USA.

Anastasiia Kostiukova acknowledges that the Paraguay Squash Open may mark her last tournament outside of Europe due to financial constraints. She remains on the lookout for a sponsor, though she admits to having "almost lost hope." Despite the obstacles, she persists in her pursuit, constructing her fitness program without a coach. "For now, I train and coach six days a week, dedicating seven hours a day, and I will continue for as long as I can."

Credit: Robert Mitchell