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Japan crisis focuses Sharapova's Chernobyl commitment

  • Tennis star Maria Sharapova reflects on potential nuclear meltdown in Japan
  • Russian works with U.N. charity trying to help survivors of Chernobyl explosion
  • Her parents fled Belarus before she was born to escape spreading radiation
  • Sharapova says she is saddened by effects of earthquake and tsunami in Japan

(CNN) -- Maria Sharapova's parents fled their home to escape the fallout from the Chernobyl explosion before she was born.

Fast-forward 25 years, and Japan's battle to prevent a possible nuclear meltdown following last week's earthquake and subsequent tsunami has brought into focus the Russian tennis star's work to raise awareness about that earlier disaster.

The 23-year-old was born in Siberia a year after the Chernobyl catastrophe, considered the worst nuclear accident in history, as her parents left Belarus to avoid any possible exposure to the spreading radiation.

In 2007, the year after she won her second grand slam title at the U.S. Open, Sharapova became a United Nations Development Program goodwill ambassador, making a personal $100,000 donation to its causes in affected areas.

'Heroes' battle to keep nuclear plant under control

Timeline of Japan's nuclear crisis

This January, she contributed another $250,000 to expand initiatives helping children in the region have access to sporting activities.

The problems Japan now faces have raised the specter of another such far-reaching disaster.

"In terms of what's going on over there, it's crazy and something that you can't even prepare for," Sharapova -- wearing a T-shirt marking the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl explosion -- told reporters in Indian Wells in the United States, where she is competing.

"It happens, and you see the coverage on it and the videos, and it's really incredible that something like that can even happen in the world. It opens your eyes, and obviously puts a lot of perspective in your life.

It opens your eyes, and obviously puts a lot of perspective in your life
--Maria Sharapova
  • Tennis
  • Maria Sharapova
  • Chernobyl
  • Japan
  • Nuclear Energy

"It's a country where I have very great memories from. I started playing there when I was very young, and I always loved my experiences there. So to see it going on there, to its culture and the people, it's really sad."

Sharapova, who moved to the U.S. at the age of nine and is now based in Florida, said she wants to highlight the widespread, long-lasting effects that a nuclear accident can create.

"In the beginning my job was raising awareness to the world, basically getting the message across that even though something like that happened such a long time ago, it still causes many people (problems) on a daily basis," she said.

"Kids that were born and now are having kids, you also find that they have something in their body that's not allowing them to live a normal life from the pollution.

"I have never actually been around the area ... I wanted to get all the coverage and all the videos around it, because it's really unbelievable what you see. This big huge area -- it's completely deserted. No-one is around it.

"Everyone has completely fled. They took their passports and that's all. That was their only belonging that they really wanted."