Paulo Fonseca: Former Roma manager shares family escape story from Ukraine

Paulo Fonseca, the former football director of Shakhtar Donetsk and AS Roma, and his Ukrainian wife Katerina, first tried to flee the country by car, with their young child and Katrina’s parents.

After facing the traffic jam, they are forced to spend another night in the capital inside a hotel shelter, before enduring a 30-hour drive through Moldova to Romania.

“It’s been really, really hard, but I think it’s even more difficult for the Ukrainians who continue there in Ukraine where the situation is getting worse every day,” Katrina told CNN Sport. Amanda Davis.

“I think this war is one of the most violent wars in the whole world, because the soldiers who kill us, they speak the same language and it’s unbelievable.”

We left everything in Ukraine, including friends and relatives who stayed in the country, all the places that mean so much to us still exist, so my heart is there and my heart is broken for everything,” Katrina added.

Fonseca in 2018 talking to his players in Shakhtar Donetsk.

The United Nations said that more than 3 million Ukrainians have fled in the wake of Russia’s invasion of the country. To put that into context, it took six months for one million Syrian refugees to leave Syria in 2013, nearly two years after the outbreak of civil war in that country.

Many cities in Ukraine have been devastated, Katrina said, adding that it is important to stop the war and prevent it from spreading to other European countries.

The Fonseca family arrived in Paulo’s home Portugal on February 28 and is now working with the Portuguese Football Federation as ambassadors for an initiative with Portugal’s national football clubs aimed at helping Ukrainian refugees find homes and jobs.

After his football career, primarily with Lisbon club Estrella da Amadora, the 49-year-old Fonseca became Portugal’s first manager in 2005. He then went on to win the Ukrainian Premier League Coach of the Year award in 2016-2017 as Donetsk coach Shakhtar where he won Seven titles in three seasons.

“I’m so proud to be a part of this world, to be a part of football, and what people do in football, it’s just amazing. But I think we can do more,” Fonseca told CNN Sport.

“I would like to see great football personalities championing peace in Europe. I think that can be very important,” he said.

During the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League season, Fonseca’s Shakhtar Donetsk dealt Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola in his first defeat in 29 matches to advance to the knockout stages.

Not to be forgotten, he made headlines after this famous win when he showed up at the post-match press conference dressed as his childhood hero, Zorro.

A move to Italy followed, and after almost two years with Roma, the Portuguese was linked last year with the highest positions at Premier League clubs Tottenham and Newcastle United.

Since his time in Rome ended in May 2021, the manager has been involved in various happening events in Ukraine.

He returned to Ukraine early on vacation to help his wife and family escape.

In an Instagram post announcing Fonsecas’ new roles as ambassadors for the Ukraine Refugee Initiative, the former Roma manager added that the Portuguese Football Federation “has shown that football can and should be used as a tool for social change”.

He appealed to all clubs to join in solidarity with the initiative.

Katrina expressed her gratitude to the Portuguese Football Federation, saying: “They welcome our young players with open arms. It is really a great support for the children who have lost all happiness in their daily lives.”

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