PARIS: At least six players of Shakhtar Donetsk have refused to return to eastern Ukraine after the latest escalation of the military and human crisis there writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Shakhtar have won nine of the last 13 Ukrainian championships and were in France last week for two pre-season friendlies.

Subsequently Brazilian players Alex Teixeira, Fred, Dentinho and Douglas Costa as well as Argentinian Facundo Ferreyra and one other unidentified player refused to board a flight out of France after a 4-1 defeat in a friendly against Lyon. Earlier Shakhtar had played in Bordeaux.

Donetsk is one of the strongholds of the pro-Russian separatists who have been accused of shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane with the loss of 298 lives.

Shakhtar, through the mediation of coach Mircea Lucescu, offered to take the players to Kharkov, some 200 miles north-west, but they refused to travel at all.

The club, who include Croatia World Cup star Darijo Srna, are due to face old rivals Dynamo Kiev in the Ukraine Supercup tomorrow in Lviv in the west of the country.

Staying away

Another foreign player who has refused to return to Ukraine is Argentinian midfielder Sebastian Blanco of Metallist Kharkiv after pre-season training in Austria.

He said: “After the Malaysia Airlines plane crash I have no intention of returning to Ukraine. The situation there is totally abnormal.”

Thomas Bach, German president of the International Olympic Committee, has talked of the “terrible shock” of the air disaster.

He said: “It was with great sadness that I learnt of the loss of so many lives in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. This sudden and senseless loss of life has come as a terrible shock to the entire world.

“During this period of mourning, I would like to reiterate my plea from the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

“I called on everyone implicated in confrontation to act on the Olympic message of dialogue and peace; to have the courage to enter into direct personal dialogue in the spirit of mutual respect, good will and peace.

“The thoughts and sympathies of everyone at the International Olympic Committee and Olympic Movement are with the loved ones of those who lost their lives in this tragic event.”