While the conflict in Ukraine is obviously much bigger than the game of soccer, the nation’s unrest is now affecting the country’s top soccer league. The Ukrainian Premier League was ranked by UEFA as the 7th best soccer league in Europe in May of 2013, and the league’s top club at the moment, Shakhtar Donetsk, is having issues with players not wanting to travel to Ukraine to start training for the upcoming season due to the turmoil the country is currently involved in.
According to reports earlier in the week, six top Shakhtar Donetsk players (Alex Teixeira, Fred, Dentinho, Douglas Costa, Facundo Ferreyra and Ismaily) refused to make the trip into Ukraine because of safety concerns. While the club has now stated that Fred has agreed to rejoin his teammates in Ukraine, and Ismaily is expected to also travel to Ukraine as well, the four remaining players have yet to make the trip to the unsettled country. Donetsk became one of the centers of the conflict in Ukraine, and pro-Russian separatists currently control the industrial city.
One of the team’s brightest stars, Douglas Costa, took to his Instagram account to voice his opinion on the sensitive situation. Costa stated in the post, “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.”
Shakhtar Donetsk’s club chairman, Rinat Akhmetov, responded to the absence of these players by giving a statement through the team’s official website. Akhmetov claimed, “Players have contracts that they have to abide by. If they do not come, I think, they will be the first to suffer.” Akhmetov went on to say, “Hopefully, the mind and heart will prevail over misunderstanding, and the players will not follow temptation and fear. Especially since there is nothing to fear.”
While Akhmetov claims that “there is nothing to fear” in Ukraine, Shakhtar Donetsk are currently not allowed by the league to play home matches at their usual stadium due to the unrest. The reigning league champions will move their home games to Lviv, a city over 700 miles west of Donestk (about as far away from Russia as possible).
This, however, is not the first time the world has heard of Shakhtar Donetsk players being worried about their safety living in Ukraine. Another one of the team’s stars, Bernard, stated back in May that, “The demonstrations in the city center, in front of city hall, have already begun. My parents and a cousin live with me. I have already talked to the ambassador of Brazil about if it gets worst if we leave Ukraine as soon as possible.” The Brazilian star also added, “You cannot stay quiet. I have this concern but it is now left in the hands of God.”
With the upcoming Ukrainian Premier League set to begin at the weekend, the reigning league champions will be scrambling to have all of their players available for the match. Following the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March, two Crimean clubs (Sevastopol and Tavriya Simferopol) will not be participating in the Ukrainian Premier League, as they both have applied to become Russian teams.