On Monday it was revealed that six Shakhtar Donetsk players had refused to return to war-torn Eastern Ukraine ahead of the new soccer season.
Alex Teixeira, Fred, Dentinho, Douglas Costa, Facundo Ferreyra and Ismaily all refused to board a plane from Lyon, France back to Donestsk after the Ukrainian champions played a preseason friendly last weekend.
[RELATED: Shakhtar players refuse to return]
The city of Donetsk is now controlled by pro-Russian rebels and has been at the heart of intense battles in recent months as the Ukrainian government try to claim the city back.
By refusing to return the six players in question have enraged the club’s billionaire owner Rinat Akhmetov, who warned them they would lose millions in payments by breaching their contract. Shakhtar’s Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu lashed out at the players’ agent, Kia Joorabchian, as he believed they were trying to engineer a move away from Donetsk due to the volatile situation in the region.
However, ulterior motives aside, the players are just scared of going back. Who can blame them?
Douglas Costa, a reported target for Manchester United earlier this year, posted the following message on his Instagram page to try and explain to people why they did not want to return to Donetsk ahead of the 2014-15 Ukrainian Premier League season which begins this weekend.
“We all run a deadly risk if we are in the region,” Costa said. “I like the club, the people, the city, but I’m afraid. We want to stay at the club, but we must have risk-free working conditions.”
I think must people would echo Costa’s sentiments.
Donetsk is located less than 38 miles away from where Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was believed to have been shot down by pro-Russian rebels on Friday. Ahead of the new Ukrainian season the club still doesn’t know where it will be playing its home games, as a neutral venue must be organized, with Kharkhiv the most likely option. Shakhtar, who have won five-straight Ukrainian titles, will also compete in the UEFA Champions League this season.
However even the alternative city of Kharkiv isn’t safe. Four Metalist Kharkiv players have also refused to return. Jose Sosa, Jonatan Cristaldo, Alejandro Gomez and Sebastian Blanco are all from Argentina and in a similar move to Shakhtar’s players they have refused to head back to the Ukraine.
In total four Ukrainian teams – Metalurh Donetsk, Olimpik Donetsk, Zorya Luhansk and Shakhtar – are based in cities controlled by rebels and all will have to play at neutral venues this season. The league itself was reduced to 14 teams as two Crimean sides withdrew after Russia’s annexation of the peninsula earlier this year.
It seems crazy that while all the unrest continues in Ukraine, soccer teams continue to prepare for a new season and the players are asked to carry on as normal.