Paulo Fonseca recalls his harrowing experience escaping Ukraine after Russia's invasion

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Portuguese football manager Paulo Fonseca has described his harrowing experience attempting to escape Ukraine after Russia launched its devastating invasion, having returned to the country to take his family away from the violence.

Fonseca, who has also coached Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, was stranded in Kyiv with his wife and son when a bombardment of missiles began to rain down on the city – forcing them to make a quick getaway in a 30-hour journey.

Their first attempted escape failed after their flight was abandoned. Since the bloodshed began, airports have been destroyed after being targeted by strikes and roads have been jammed by citizens trying to escape to neighbouring Poland. 

They were woken at their apartment in the early hours when the bombing began, and looked to flee by car – with Fonseca now revealing that they travelled east after a call from the sporting director of Shakhtar, Dario Srna, who offered them shelter.

‘Dario called me and said to come to the hotel owned by the president of Shakhtar,’ Fonseca told Sky Sports in an interview.

‘We moved to the hotel there and stayed in a bunker there overnight, for one and a half days overall, with the Brazilian players from Shakhtar and the technical team.

‘I started to think the situation was only going to get worse so we contacted the Portuguese embassy and they said, “Tomorrow we’ll have a car and you can go”. 

‘I decided to leave in the morning, the day after the car picked us up from the hotel and we started a long trip to the border. 

Portuguese football manager Paulo Fonseca has described his experience escaping Ukraine

Portuguese football manager Paulo Fonseca has described his experience escaping Ukraine

Fonseca, who has managed Shakhtar Donetsk, fled Kyiv when the Russian bombing began

Fonseca, who has managed Shakhtar Donetsk, fled Kyiv when the Russian bombing began

‘It was dangerous, we travelled all day and night without stopping.

‘The journey was 30 hours, more including across the border with Moldova to where we were staying in Romania.

‘I saw many times the troops of Ukraine pass on the road, we stopped and listened to the alarms many times, and there was a lot of traffic.

‘We spent a lot of time going 5kmph. During the trip we were in danger even driving in the night, and I heard the planes passing, but I didn’t see shooting or fighting.

Fonseca (right) escaped with his wife Katerina (top) and their son (left) in a 30-hour journey

Fonseca (right) escaped with his wife Katerina (top) and their son (left) in a 30-hour journey

‘We travelled with another family, a couple with a six-month-old baby. In the end we arrived on the border and felt safe, which was the most important thing.’

In an Instagram post, Fonseca’s wife Katerina Ostroushko confirmed that the family were safe. The couple had a son together in 2019. 

Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Fonseca and the group managed to leave Kyiv thanks to a mission led by the Portuguese embassy. 

He was taken to Romania, through Moldova, in a 15-seater minivan alongside other Portuguese nationals including Edgar Cardoso and Filipe Sousa.

After touching down in Lisbon, Fonseca and his family were pictured in positive spirits

After touching down in Lisbon, Fonseca and his family were pictured in positive spirits

People cross an improvised path under a destroyed bridge while fleeing Russian shelling

People cross an improvised path under a destroyed bridge while fleeing Russian shelling

Fonseca’s wife said in her Instagram post: ‘Our friends from all over the world. You are absolutely incredible!

‘Thank you for your great support, your prayers and help in our darkest days.

‘Thanks to you, my family and I are safe now.  I will forever remember your kindness.

‘Every helping hand, every word, I’m absolutely crushed. My heart is broken. So much pain and fear in two terrible days. Crime war I hate you, Ukraine I love you.’

Fonseca's partner posted a message confirming they were safe and thanking well-wishers

Fonseca’s partner posted a message confirming they were safe and thanking well-wishers

Fonseca had recorded a short video on a balcony in Kyiv during his time in the city.

He said: ‘Hello everyone. I am in Kyiv. My family and I are going through a very tough time in the middle of an unacceptable war. However, we believe peace will eventually prevail and we must remain strong.

‘I’ve receive messages from many people in Portugal, Italy and all around the world, and I want to thank everyone for the care that you have shown my family and I at this time. Hope to see all of you soon.’

Today, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky vowed that ‘God will not forgive’ and his country ‘will not forget’ the slaughter of innocent civilians by Russia, with cities hit by fresh bombardments as the invasion enters its gruelling 12th day.

Fonseca took to social media to give fans an update of his situation from a balcony in Kyiv

Fonseca took to social media to give fans an update of his situation from a balcony in Kyiv

Zelensky, in a late-night address to his countrymen on the Orthodox Christian holiday of ‘Forgiveness Sunday’, recalled how a family of four were among eight civilians killed by Russian mortars while trying to flee the city of Irpin.

‘We will not forgive. We will not forget,’ he told listeners.

‘We cannot forgive the hundreds upon hundreds of victims. Nor the thousands upon thousands who have suffered,’ he added. 

‘God will not forgive. Not today. Not tomorrow. Never.’  

Ukraine war: The latest 

  • Russia steps up its shelling as the UN says 1.5 million people have now fled
  • Attempts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol fail again, amid repeated ceasefire violations 
  • Ukraine’s military says it is fighting ‘fierce battles’ on the edge of the southern city of Mykolayiv, 
  • Dozens of civilians are being killed in the battle for Chernihiv in the north
  • A barrage of Russian missiles destroys Vinnytsia airport in central Ukraine
  • Russian shops are told to limit sales of essential foodstuffs to counter black market speculation
  • Thousands more are arrested at anti-war demonstrations in Russia, bringing the total to well over 11,000
  • Vladimir Putin says he will achieve his aims in Ukraine ‘through negotiation or through war’
  • US ‘green lights’ Poland to supply Kyiv with fighter jets, amid fears it could drag NATO into war
  • Antony Blinken says the West is in ‘very active’ discussions about a Russian oil embargo, despite price at all-time high
  • Credit card giants Visa, Mastercard and American Express freeze business in Russia. Russian banks say they will use China’s UnionPay system
  • Consultancy firms KPMG and PwC announce an end to operations in Russia
  • France announces it will send iodine tablets and other medical supplies to Ukraine. They are used to protect against the effects of exposure to radiation
  • krainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says 20,000 international volunteers have joined the fight
  • Netflix suspends services in Russia and social media giant TikTok blocks posting of video content from the country
  • Foreign media including the BBC, CBC, ARD, ZDF, Bloomberg News, CNN, CBS, RAI and EFE have suspended reporting from Russia after Moscow threatened jail terms

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