Douglas Costa says Shakhtar Donetsk players' lives are at risk
Midfielder is among six South Americans refusing to return to the club because of the conflict in the country
Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Douglas Costa said he and his fellow players who refused to return to the Ukrainian champions did so because the conflict in the country puts their lives at risk.
Costa and five other South American players refused to travel with the rest of the team to Ukraine for yesterday's first match of the season.
The players "all run a deadly risk if we are in the region", Costa said on his Instagram page. He said he and the other five absent players wanted to train in Switzerland during the conflict and were not seeking a transfer.
"I like the club, the people, the city, but I'm afraid," he said in comments posted alongside a picture of the Shakhtar badge. "We want to stay at the club, but we must have risk-free working conditions."
Costa, 23, has been with Shakhtar since 2010, winning five straight Ukrainian titles and reaching the Champions League quarter-finals in 2010-11.
Uefa denied intervening in the situation after Shakhtar general director Sergei Palkin claimed to Russian agency R-Sport that Uefa "recommends that our players who have left the team return as soon as possible".
The city of Donetsk is held by pro-Russian rebels who are battling Ukrainian forces, and is around 60km from the site where Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 crashed on Thursday with 298 people on board.
Costa's comments run counter to claims made by Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu, who has accused agent Kia Joorabchian of convincing the players they could use the conflict to sign new contracts with other clubs.
"It's a true scandal," Lucescu said. "He took advantage of the situation to abduct them."
Shakhtar's billionaire owner, Rinat Akhmetov, has warned that the club could take legal action to force the players to come back. "If they don't come then in the first instance they will suffer," he said .
Refusing to fulfil their contracts could cost the players "tens of millions of euros" in compensation payments, he warned.
The players did not return with the team following Shakhtar Donetsk's friendly against French team Lyon on Saturday. Shakhtar were to play a Ukrainian Super Cup match against Dynamo Kiev in Lviv yesterday.
As well as Costa, fellow Brazilians Alex Teixeira, Ismaily, Fred and Dentinho have not reported back with the club, along with Argentine striker Facundo Ferreyra.
The six represent less than half of Shakhtar's large South American contingent, who also includes Brazil internationals Bernard, Ilsinho and Fernando.
Shakhtar will play their home fixtures outside of Donetsk this season, with Akhmetov expressing a preference for the nearby city of Kharkiv, which is majority Russian-speaking and held by the Ukrainian government, although there has been some unrest there in recent months.
Safety in Kharkiv has been put in the spotlight after four Argentine players refused to return to the city's Ukrainian Premier League side Metalist Kharkiv, whose stadium Shakhtar would share under Akhmetov's plans.
Fifa can impose strict penalties in breach of contract cases. Players can be suspended for four months and clubs can face a one-year transfer embargo.
As Ukrainian champions, Shakhtar qualified for the group stage of the Champions League.
The Ukrainian Premier League season, which starts on Friday, has been reduced from 16 teams to 14 after its two Crimean clubs withdrew after Russia's annexation of the peninsula.
Besides Shakhtar, three other teams - Metalurh Donetsk, Olimpik Donetsk and Zorya Luhansk - are based in cities controlled by rebels. These teams will use stadiums in other cities because of the conflict.