Sao Paulo (AFP) – A group of Brazilian footballers and their families arrived in Sao Paulo on Tuesday after a two-day odyssey to escape war-torn Ukraine, where they play their club football.
The contingent of 13 Brazilians from Shakhtar Donetsk were among dozens of people that crammed into a train and then a bus for a journey to Romania that lasted more than 30 hours.
From there, they were able to board flights back to their homeland.
“The hardest thing was everything we saw on the road: people dying, people that had nothing to do with this situation,” said Pedrinho, a 23-year-old forward, upon his arrival in Sao Paulo.
“I took my four-month-old daughter with me and all I wanted was for her to be ok. Images of terror, destroyed cities: these are the things that remain in my head.
“What I most want now is to be with my family, with my parents. I said goodbye to them every time we spoke because I did not know if it would be the last time we would talk.”
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Shakhtar’s Brazilians and a pair of players from Dynamo Kyiv — Uruguayan Carlos de Pena and Vitinho of Brazil — took shelter in a hotel with their families while asking Brazil’s government to help them leave the country.
Before the war began there were around 500 Brazilians in Ukraine. That is down to around 100 now, according to the Brazilian embassy in Kyiv.
“Everything blew up from one day to another. Thursday morning we were at home when we started hearing the sound of the bombs, the planes, and that’s when the nightmare began,” De Pena told AFP as he waited in Sao Paulo for an onward flight to Montevideo.
“It wasn’t easy coordinating the transport because there were many desperate people, many people fleeing, Russian troops closing in on the capital.”
Now he remembers the feelings of “fear, sadness and not knowing whether we will go back.”
Brazilian Marlon Santos, 26, admitted it was “difficult to stay calm.”
After three days in the hotel, the players embarked on a 17-hour train journey and then 15-hour bus ride with the help of European football’s governing body UEFA to reach Romania.
“It was very dark when we left, we didn’t know what we would come across,” said Maycon, 24, a Shakhtar player who left with his wife, two children and parents.
“I just asked for calm so that my children did not feel what we were feeling,” said Maycon’s wife Lyarah Vojnovic Barberan.
But the relief at now being in a safe haven is tempered by the concern for Ukrainian teammates left behind.
“We have great friends there, I’m sorry for them and really hope everything gets resolved,” said Maycon.
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