NORFOLK, Va. - "When I start laughing, enjoying my life here, I right away think what's going on back [home] and like I feel guilty for being happy."
Guilt sets in for Old Dominion women's tennis player Yuliia Starodubtseva when she experiences a fleeting moment of happiness, because back home in Ukraine, friends and family are fighting against the Russian invasion of her home country.
"You can't really focus on anything else besides thinking what's going on back home," Starodubtseva said. "As much as you try to think about something else, you just can't."
On the men's team, Yevhen Sirous is also struggling to balance school and tennis with the invasion of his home country. He's a native of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, which has seen heavy damage.
"They have been constantly shooting and firing missiles at my home town," Sirous said.
"I think it can go two ways," ODU men's tennis coach Dominik Mueller said about how the athletes could handle the invasion of their home country. "As human beings, some people use it as a distraction and some people don't want to be on the tennis court, and I think he decided last week he wanted to use it as a distraction, be around his friends, be around his teammates. We had done two matches and the first match he was still very composed.
"I think the second day we finally saw him run out of the emotional energy."
The Monarchs' connection to friends and family back home hasn't been great, but they remain in daily contact. Most of their time has been spent constantly updating messengers and news outlets as they watch the invasion unfold along with the rest of the world.
While Ukrainians fearlessness may be new to outsiders, the two Monarchs feel a sense of pride as they watch their countrymen's fight on display from afar.
"When I see my people fighting back, women, older people who's just going with the bare hands up to the tanks, just proudness for my country," Sirous said.
"It's crazy how people are fearless at this time," Starodubtseva added. "Not even [just] man, women and older people, they just want to step up and fight for our country.
"Nobody wants to just give up. That's inspiring."
"Ukrainian people in general, the fight they put up and the pride.. I think what we are all reading, what we are hearing, [Starodubtseva and Sirous] are showing us every single day in person."