Missing Shakhtar Donetsk players ‘fear for life’

ONE OF the six Shakhtar Donetsk players refusing to return to Ukraine has said he is not abandoning the club, but is scared of putting his life at risk.

Brazilian footballer Fred is among the missing players. Picture: Getty

Douglas Costa - along with fellow Brazilians Alex Teixeira, Fred, Dentinho and Ismaily, plus Argentine striker Facundo Ferreyra - refused to travel from France to Ukraine following a friendly against Lyon on Saturday.

The players’ action came two days after 298 people aboard a Malaysian Airlines flight died when their plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine.

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“I wish to clarify that I am not abandoning the club. I am scared. Everything that we read, see or hear is that the situation in the country is not good,” a statement posted on Costa’s Instagram account said.

“We don’t know what kind of conditions we would train in and even less play in.

“To play, we need to travel. What kind of security will we have? I have no problem with Shakhtar. I like the club, the people, the city, but I am afraid about other conflict situations and possibly, when we are travelling, when we are not with our families, that something worse could happen.”

Sergei Palkin, Shakhtar’s CEO, gave assurances that UEFA is on the club’s side, coming up with official documents from the governing body of European football.

“We held consultations with UEFA following this situation when some of Shakhtar players refused to come back to Ukraine due to safety concerns and a threat to their well-being,” he said.

“UEFA recommended that the players who left the team without permission come back to Ukraine as soon as possible. We will file the copies of these documents to the players and their agents.

“Players’ safety is the main priority for our club. No one is going to take them to the cities facing the military operations or if there is the least shred of safety concerns,” Palkin told the club’s website.

New season

Shakhtar are scheduled to open the new season with a Super Cup match against Dynamo Kiev later on Tuesday in Lviv in the far west of the country.

When the regular season kicks off, the Donetsk-based team are likely to play their home games in one of four cities - Kiev, Lviv, Dnipropetrovsk or Odessa - until the conflict between the army and pro-Russian rebels in the region is resolved.

“We have an officially confirmed list of the cities where, in the view of UEFA, games can be held with the safety guaranteed. These are the cities authorized to stage Champions

league and Europa league games, namely Kiev, Lviv, Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa,” Palkin said.

“We are evaluating all pros and cons to decide where Shakhtar are to be based. Anyway, this is going to be one of these four options,” Palkin added.

The whereabouts of the six players was still unknown on Tuesday, although at least some of them are thought to be in Switzerland.

French sports daily L’Equipe reported that Teixeira and Costa had been “proposed” to French Ligue 1 club AS Monaco by agent Kia Joorabchian. The club, however, refused to confirm the report when contacted.

Shakhtar president Rynat Akhmetov has warned the players they would be in breach of their contracts with Shakhtar whose home in Donetsk is close to the current conflict in the country.

He said on Shakhtar’s official website that they had no reason to worry about returning to Donetsk.

Club captain Dario Srna, a 32-year-old Croatia international, believes the situation will not shatter the team’s spirit but instead makes it even stronger.

“I’m not ready to comment on this matter. It will take some time to understand everything. Whatever happens, it can only unite us,” Srna said.

“I am grateful to all the players - Ukrainians, Brazilians - who are here. They are the real Shakhtar!”