Yuliia Zhytelna named January CalHOPE Courage Award recipient


Photo courtesy of CSUN Athletic Communications.

Edward Segal, Sports Editor

Matadors tennis player Yuliia Zhytelna received the January CalHOPE Courage Award as recognition for the adversity she faced over the past year, nearly 12 months after Russia invaded her home country of Ukraine.

Anastasiia Slivina, a Ukrainian-born athlete on the rowing team at USC, received the award along with the Matador.

“I feel extremely honored, and I really want to share these emotions with my family in Ukraine,” Zhytelna said. “I truly think that all Ukrainian student-athletes in the U.S. deserve this award, not just me. I’m one of thousands who was struggling with mental health, but I’m honored to be recognized.”

The award acknowledges college and university student-athletes who have “overcome the stress, anxiety, and mental trauma associated with personal hardships and adversity,” per the CalHOPE website.

Zhytelna took the remainder of the spring 2022 semester off from tennis after Russia invaded her country of origin. During her time off, she hosted a vigil in front of the University Library and coordinated with the family of former teammate Magdalena Hedzrak to arrange housing for Zhytelna’s family when they emigrated to Poland. She continues to run fundraisers and use her social media to raise awareness of the struggles in her homeland.

The Matador returned for the fall 2022 season and played in all five tournaments. In the spring portion of the season, Zhytelna has gone 3-1 in singles play and 2-1 in doubles action with her partner, Sasha Turchak.

“Seeing how my people are fighting for our land made me fight for myself,” Zhytelna said. “I didn’t want to lose myself. So tennis became my distraction, and now I feel stronger and more confident than ever before.”

The student-athlete says that the best thing people can do is educate themselves and spread awareness to others about what is happening in her country. Zhytelna believes that having someone to talk to when going through something like this helps a lot with the coping process.

“I’m still not in a good state, still working on myself, and everyone is different. However, what definitely helped me were my therapist and my loved ones,” Zhytelna said. “I just became open with them about my feelings and life, so now I feel secure with them. I can cry, laugh and be honest with them and they don’t judge. So be open.”

Later this spring, $5,000 will be donated to mental health services at the schools of two of the student-athletes who earned the award during the 2022-23 school year.