Russian tennis star Daria Kasatkina may never be able to return home after coming out as gay

Daria Kasatkina of Russia in action against Varvara Gracheva of Russia in her first round match on Day 3 of the 2023 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 18, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia.

Russia’s top female tennis player Daria Kasatkina has said she worries she may never be able to return home to see her family after coming out and announcing that she was in a relationship with professional figure skater Natalia Zabiiako.

The 25-year-old star, who is no stranger to speaking out about social injustice – including the war in Ukraine and her country’s regressive attitude to homosexuality – bravely came out last July and added that she’s “happy with the outcome”.

During a recent interview, she opened up about why she continues to speak out, even if it means she is unable to see her family. 

In Russia, the federal government’s expanded “gay propaganda” ban now outlaws the “promotion” of homosexuality for all ages, silencing the country’s LGBTQ+ community indefinitely. 

Reflected on her decision, Kasatkina told The Guardian: “To be honest, it helped me. I felt less pressure.

“I put this pressure out of my shoulders because when you have to think about tennis but also to think about some deep things inside your head, it’s just not good.

You may like to watch

“I remember after saying all these things, I just felt much better. That was one of the best decisions of the [past] year and I’m happy with the outcome.

“And thanks to the people who were next to me, supporting me.”

Natalia Zabiiako films girlfriend Daria Kasatkina of Russia after her quarter-final victory on Day 4 of the 2023 Adelaide International at Memorial Drive on January 12, 2023 in Adelaide, Australia.
Natalia Zabiiako films girlfriend Daria Kasatkina after her quarter-final victory at the Adelaide International earlier this month (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

Despite the pressure of hiding her sexuality being lifted from her shoulders, Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to pain Daria Kasatkina.

“I have so many friends and people I know from Ukraine,” she said, “and hearing the stories [is] painful because I’m thinking, imagine if I’m in their spot.

“It’s very tough. And it’s been almost a year living in these circumstances. I want this to end as soon as possible, but unfortunately it’s not depending on us.”

Kasatkina, who suffered a shock defeat to Russian compatriot Varvara Gracheva in the first round of the Australian Open on Wednesday (18 January), said she wants to show her friends she loves and supports them, “because it’s very tough”.

But “for them, it’s more difficult,” she added.

“For most people, it’s important to have the support of family, of friends. It’s been tough because… my friends, my family, they couldn’t travel, first because of COVID-19, then the war.

“It’s difficult that I cannot see the people I love, often. Actually, I can see them almost never.

“I didn’t see my father for two years. But it is what it is. It’s life, unfortunately. I have to say thanks that it’s not a worse scenario. I’m just happy they’re healthy and I have them.”

‘I’m very thankful’

After coming out, Daria Kasatkina knew her relationship with Natalia Zabiiako wouldn’t be received well in her homeland. 

But she didn’t expect the overwhelming positive reaction she received from fellow players. “That was great because I didn’t face any negativity, especially from the people I know,” she revealed.

“This topic is very sensitive, so I was ready for some negative reaction, but there was nothing like that. 

“I’m very thankful because that makes me feel so good. Some of the players were coming to me, sometimes they’re still coming to me, to say ‘yeah, it’s cool’ or ‘congrats’ to me. That’s nice.”

Please login or register to comment on this story.