That has led to some conflicted emotions.
“Part of me feels like I’m the oppressor, but part of me feels like I’m the victim,” Volk says. “Not me in particular, but my roots. I’m not sure how to feel, but the only thing I can feel is horrified. This war should not exist. There should always be peace.
“People should not be hating one another, and countries should not be invading other countries. There shouldn’t be civilians losing their lives and people getting displaced. The fact that there are bombings going on every single day in these cities my family lived in, it’s horrifying.”
The bond between Kazakov and Volk, who just completed their final year in the business school, began before they ever met.
When he graduated from Cornell University in 2020, Kazakov still had a season of eligibility remaining. Looking for the right combination of tennis and a quality business school, he entered the NCAA transfer portal. The first person to reach out was Brenden Volk.
“I wanted to let him know he’d have another Russian on the team,” says Volk, who is fluent in the language. “We definitely clicked right away.”
In their only season together, Kazakov went 8-3 at No. 2 singles. Volk, who played four seasons at W&M after transferring from Northwestern University, teamed with George Davis for an 8-5 record at No. 1 doubles.
Kazakov and Volk remained connected with the program afterward, helping Tribe Head Men’s Tennis Coach Jeff Kader prepare the current team for competitions.
“Obviously, we both wish we were still playing,” Volk says. “But being able to still be around the team, guys we competed with last season, and contributing to wins has been really rewarding. And a whole lot of fun.”
Tennis provides a respite from the news, but for only so long. Ukraine remains in peril, but Kazakov is encouraged by the world’s opposition to Putin’s war.
“I’m happy to see the world is very clear and united against Russia,” Kazakov says. “Everyone is well aware of what’s happening and there’s no confusion outside of Russia. Everyone is trying to provide whatever help they can without worsening the conflict.”
He agrees with the sanctions against Russia.
“While they’re hurting my family, I think they’re necessary,” he says. That’s one of the more peaceful ways of stopping Russia.”
Although Kazakov has long opposed Putin, few knew it outside his family and circle of friends. Earlier this spring, encouraged by his sister, he made his feelings known on social media.
On Instagram, Kazakov declared his support for Ukraine and called Putin’s actions “an attack on all humanity.” He said he was “embarrassed” to be a citizen of Russia and for having been silent.
There was some pushback, mostly from his friends in Russia.
“Part of the problem is that they’re being brainwashed because the only news outlets are state owned and state controlled,” Kazakov says. “It’s hard to be upset at them because it’s not really their fault. At the same time, I’m a little upset because they don’t want to listen to what I have to say.