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Brazil, Argentina Soccer Players Refuse Return to Ukraine

Shakhtar Brazilian Player Alex Teixeira
Shakhtar's Alex Teixeira, left, fights for the ball with Real Sociedad's Ijon Ansotegi during their UEFA Champions League soccer match in Donetsk, on November 27, 2013. Photographer: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Five Brazilian soccer players and an Argentine are refusing to return to Ukraine’s richest soccer club because of the conflict in the eastern European country.

Shakhtar Brazilian players Alex Teixeira, Fred, Douglas Costa, Ismaily and Dentinho and Argentina’s Facundo Ferreyra refused to fly back with their teammates after an exhibition game in France. The new Ukrainian season starts this weekend.

The team, owned by billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, is based in the eastern city of Donetsk, which is controlled by a group of pro-Russian rebels. A Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down in the region on July 17, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

“I don’t rule out that these players will return to the team quickly, and some of them -- tomorrow,” Akhmetov said on the club’s website. “Players have contracts that they have to abide by. If they do not come, I think, they will be the first to suffer.”

Nine-time Ukrainian champion Shakhtar has been a landing spot for South American talent for several years, with many moving on to bigger European clubs for a profit. The club currently has 12 South Americans on its roster.

“Each of them has a minimum release clause, which is tens of millions of euros,” Akhmetov said of the players. “If someone wants to reduce this amount by a million, then such a decision is our right. There won’t be clearance sale!”

Financial Penalties

Marcos Motta, a Rio de Janeiro-based lawyer who advised six Shakhtar players on their moves to Ukraine, said they risk “big financial penalties” if they break their contracts.

“Our legal opinion is unilateral termination is not suggested,” Motta said by telephone. “They would probably be subject to sanctions and so would any club that signs them.”

Some players including Costa and Teixeira are now represented by U.K.-based Iranian businessman Kia Joorabchian, according to Motta.

The conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine’s new government has sparked a political crisis and prevented Shakhtar from using its home stadium, the $400 million Donbass Arena, which hosted games including a semifinal at the 2012 European soccer championship.

The local soccer federation has yet to determine where Shakhtar’s games can be played. European soccer body UEFA in March said only western cities of Lviv and Kiev were capable of hosting games.

The team is prepared to provide security, Akhmetov said, adding, “we will not take risks, and in any case we won’t bring players to dangerous places.”

“We want to play in Donetsk very much, but, unfortunately, at the moment we cannot do it,” he said. “We will play where we will be allowed to. We would like to do it in Kharkiv. The decision regarding the championship is taken by the Ukrainian Football Federation.”

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