Meet The Player: The Heartbreaking Tale of Anastasiia Kostiukova

By RJ Mitchell

For any squash player, winning their national championships represents a special high, filled with unforgettable memories – when that triumph confirms you as your homeland’s finest for the fourth occasion, it should surely be enjoyed with an extra sense of satisfaction.

Yet for Anastasiia Kostiukova this seminal success at Kiyiv’s Sport Life Club was a bittersweet moment, tinged with a growing sense of frustration that her talent will never enjoy the opportunity to truly flourish on the international stage, due to the continuing disruption of normal life in her homeland – Ukraine.

Having lost the sponsorship of her previous American backer, Anastasiia faces a day’s journey on her own to get to Warsaw, before she can even contemplate a flight to the destination of her next PSA Challenger tournament. With her PSA World ranking plummeting from 111 to 206, the Ukrainian champion admits she can no longer bring herself to view the weekly ratings list.

Now, unless a sponsor can be found, Anastasiia – who’s seven-year-old son Artem joined his mum as a national champion when he claimed the Ukrainian under-9 championship – admits that her squash dream must be shelved.

“I have stopped checking my ranking every week as it makes me feel so bad,” she said.

“I love my squash but I love my son and my husband more, my family is everything so the prospect of moving would be impossible. I have Artem and Alexi and for me to move away from them, well I could not do that.

“At least the National Championships were like a Satellite so there were some points available and that was something but not enough to make any real difference.”

Even Anastasia’s straight games triumph over Anastasia Krykun proved a battle in overcoming adversity as she revealed: “I’m very happy winning this national title as I was sick before the tournament and right up to the semi-final and the final I had a temperature of nearly 80 and I was just feeling really bad.

“Also the Friday before the tournament I burnt my hand on a ball machine when I was coaching. When I turned it on there was a bit of a shock and it burnt me, which was a bit of a problem, so it wasn’t good!

“But I won in three which was great and probably just as well as if it had gone on any longer who knows.

“So although this was my fourth title because of how I was feeling it made it special but what really made it special was my son Artem won the under-9 national title and I am so proud of him.

“We had our picture taken together after we won and it was the most special moment of the lot and one I will never forget.”

To put Anastasiia’s position in perspective her memory of the day Ukraine’s new reality dawned was confirmed sends a chill down the spine as she recalled the moment the Russians invaded: “Alexi, Artem and I, we are the opposite side of Kiev to Bucha (the scene of a Russian massacre of Ukrainian civilians in April 2024), the Russians came in from the Bucha side so we were very lucky.

“I was at home, it was the 24th of February 2022, and I will never forget that date for as long as I live. Alexi and I were sleeping and the windows started shaking and I could hear the explosions and it was very scary.

“I live out of the city in a house and this was not as dangerous as being in Kiev in an apartment, but I got up and looked out and I just didn’t know what to do. I thought it was the end.

“Now I feel like the rest of Europe doesn’t care, they know about the war but it is happening far away and it doesn’t touch them, so really they don’t care.”

With Anastasiia facing an initial journey to the Polish capital of Warsaw before she even begins to head in the direction of a tournament elsewhere in Europe, the loss of her sponsor has been a major blow.

Explaining this the 30 year-old said: “Unfortunately people are not interested in sponsoring a squash player in Ukraine.

“I have tried with my clients but no one is keen and that is understandable with the way the war is. So the only way is to work here and save money to play in some tournaments and do that as best I can.

“The other problem is that there used to be 3k, 5k, 10k tournaments in Europe, but now there is nothing and it’s all in the USA. So I just try and do the best I can, work and train and if there is an opportunity to play a tournament then I will play it.

“This is why I can’t play more tournaments. I managed to play in Czech (Republic) at the Brno Open earlier this year, but that was because I had friends there who helped me with accommodation.

“But my next tournament, well I just don’t know. I checked the PSA calendar but most of the tournaments are in the USA and places I can’t afford to go.

“There is only one tournament in Denmark in a couple of months but until then there are no tournaments in Europe at my level, there are some, but only Bronze events and my ranking has dropped way too low to enter them.”

Combining a coaching day that can stretch to seven hours with the requirement to train up to three hours makes for an exhausting daily schedule.

Although Anastasiia is boosted by the presence of Ukraine’s seven-time men’s national champion Denis Podvorny at the Sport Life Club they both call their sporting home, there is a sense that she is trying to turn the tide back in her bid to save her pro playing career.

The Ukrainian champion admitted: “I have had hard times mentally and we had health problems in my family and at one time I just stopped training for some months as I was so down.

“I travel by myself; I train myself, I do it all by myself. In Europe it takes three hours city to city and for me it is two days and it is so tough.

“I have no coach, I don’t have a fitness programme, I have no manager and do it all by myself from experiences I took from other coaches.

“It is just so hard seeing other players with coaches; training partners and it is so easy for them while for me I need to fight day to day just to train and then maybe there will be an air alert and I can’t play.”

Yet this is not the first time Anastasiia’s squash career was hit hard by circumstances beyond her control. After taking up our sport as a 19-year-old student at the University of the Marine in Odessa, she reached a career high of World No.111 just seven years later – before Covid struck.

Yet her determination not to give up while fate’s teeth seem destined to take a fatal bite is uplifting and there is one slim glimmer of hope that her career can be saved.

Anastasiia shared: “After the Brno Open I did play in the Polish League for Aero Squash. They were allowed to pay for one foreign player and they asked me if I would join them and I played three matches for them and won all three and then came back to Ukraine.

“So playing in European Leagues would be good and if there are other European Clubs out there in need of some help I would be really happy to talk with them on this.”

Let us have belief that hope can just perhaps spring eternal.

If you are interested in sponsoring Anastasiia or enlisting her services for your club team contact paul.walters@isportgroup.com.