MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Coaches and teammates describe Diana Khodan as feisty, resilient and always happy. The tennis court is her safe haven, and these days it’s an escape from what’s happening back home in Ukraine. But her days begin with phone calls and text messages no college student should have make.
“Every day is a challenge for me. Starting from the call or message – like everything’s fine. To hear from my mom, ‘I’m alive, we’re alive, we’re safe,’ it’s obviously horrible. I can’t imagine what they’re going through. You can only understand if you’re there. It’s tough for me because I’m so far from them,” Khodan said.
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Khodan’s family is safe, staying on the western side of the country away from the Russian invasion. Her mom decided not to evacuate, choosing to stay with her dad and her 22-year-old brother.
“He’s that person that will fight for our country, our president. He said that he’s ready. If the president makes the call that normal people, civilians need to go, he would go,” she said of her brother.
From thousands of miles away, Khodan is doing her part. She’s in a group chat with other Ukrainian athletes that help coordinate safe travel and shelter for families displaced by the invasion. She’s also trying to make here country proud on the court.
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“When I’m on the tennis court I’m just trying to stay between the lines and just keep my thoughts away. Just say focused – as my coach says – stay focused,” Khodan said.
She added “It’s my mission to fight here because my people are fighting in Ukraine. When I’m in between the lines, I’m also fighting for my country. †
Khodan isn’t alone in her battle. Her teammates are standing with her and her country. They decided the Ukrainian flag would be part of their uniform.
Associate Head Coach Alex Santos said, “We don’t think it’s correct what’s happening right now and we just want to show we’re fighting by your side and that you can count on us, not just for tennis.”
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Her teammate Maya Tahan said, “D is like the kind of person that always laughs, makes jokes, everything is positive and energetic. The fact that she’s still doing that during these times, it’s inspiring.”