A contingent of largely Brazilian football players and their families have managed to leave Ukraine after the Russian military offensive, one of the country’s top clubs Shakhtar Donetsk said on Monday.
The group had been hunkered down in a Kyiv hotel basement before their flight overland into Moldova and then Romania, where many of them posted on social media expressing relief and horror.
“Shaktar’s Brazilian players [they have 13 in their squad] have left the country,” the club said, adding that other foreign Ukraine-based stars from Dynamo Kyiv had gone with them.
“After a 16-hour journey we have crossed the Ukraine border and are on our way to Bucharest, where we will fly to Brazil,” Matheus Assaf, the agent of Shakhtar player Vinicius Tobias, said.
The agent thanked Ukraine and Moldova’s football federations, as well as UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin for making their flight possible.
Shaktar’s Italian coach Roberto De Zerbi posted a video of himself and his coaching staff on Instagram saying they were happy to be home.
“But so long as our Ukrainian players and our Ukrainian friends are not as free as us, we can never be truly happy,” De Zerbi said.
Dynamo’s Uruguayan winger Carlos de Pena described a stressful week.
He said he was woken up just before 5am local time on February 24 “by the sound of planes and bombs exploding in Kyiv”.
“Peace ended and the nightmare began. I saw the desperation of people in the streets, queues for the supermarkets and cash points, and people fleeing to the border.”
De Pena, Brazilian teammate Vitinho and other Brazilians took shelter in a hotel basement.
He said on Friday: “You could feel the explosions close by, civilians started dying and the fear grew.”
He was part of a group that escaped by train towards Romania and managed to cross the border into Moldova.
“I was very afraid and hid to cry several times to put on a brave face and not show others my desperation.”