Israeli soccer star Manor Solomon recounts harrowing escape from Ukraine - interview

Israeli soccer star Manor Solomon had to pull a Harry Houdini to make his way from war-torn Kyiv back to Israel via Poland under the most trying of circumstances.

 MANOR SOLOMON’S time with Shakhtar Donetsk may be ending after the Israeli midfielder returned to Israel from the Ukraine after the Russians invaded.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
MANOR SOLOMON’S time with Shakhtar Donetsk may be ending after the Israeli midfielder returned to Israel from the Ukraine after the Russians invaded.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

There are escape stories and then there are escape stories.

Israeli soccer star Manor Solomon had to pull a Harry Houdini to make his way from war-torn Kyiv back to Israel via Poland under the most trying of circumstances.

But the 22-year-old midfielder is back home with his parents with his future at Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk as cloudy as ever.

The Kfar Saba native experienced quite the week as the entire Israeli sports world was on the edge of its seats following his every move from his apartment in Ukraine’s capital to the border then to Warsaw, and finally back to the Holy Land where he was reunited with his family.

While Shakhtar’s story and relationship with the Russo-Ukrainian war began close to a decade ago, when the club was ousted from the city of Donetsk and became a soccer nomad, for Solomon – an Israel National Team stalwart – his trials and tribulations actually began a few weeks ago in the middle of February in Turkey.

Many cold-weather countries, including Ukraine, hold training camps in countries with warmer weather ahead of the resumption of the domestic soccer season, which takes a winter break from mid-December through the beginning of March.

As camp wrapped up in mid-February and under the pale of a full-fledged Russian invasion, the club decided that despite the warning signs that Russia would actually enter the country and even more so head to its capital, it would return to its temporary home base in Kiev.

Israel had already warned its citizens to leave Ukraine at that point, but after consulting Shakhtar and receiving assurances, Solomon and his representatives felt that it was safe enough to return to Kiev and continue on training as usual.

“Manor will return to Kiev together with his club,” Solomon’s reps Shlomi Ben Ezra and Gilad Katsav said at the time. “He is in a quiet area and Shakhtar has given us assurances. He is focusing on soccer.”

That quiet was broken early last Thursday morning when Solomon woke up to blasts going off all over the Ukrainian capital.”

I was woken up by huge explosions in Kiev, which was really surprising. I spoke to my teammates and we didn’t know what to do. I finally made the decision to begin heading toward the border which was going to be a long and difficult journey with a lot of balagan,” Solomon recounted.

Although Shakhtar had promised that everything would be fine and that the whole team would fly out of the area two or three days prior to any type of Russian invasion, in reality that did not occur and once all the military action got under way there wasn’t much that the club could do for all of its concerned foreign players.

At 6:30 Thursday night, Solomon was picked up in Kiev by a Ukrainian driver who was a friend of a friend.

“As we began travelling west we heard many blasts, but we felt that nothing would happen. At the start of the journey things were pretty relaxed, but there were sirens going off. But when we started to get closer to the border, we began to get scared as we didn’t know what would happen and there was so much traffic.”

With people fleeing from the country’s hot spots and gas stations that were packed to the hilt, Solomon approached the border area almost 15 hours after his trip had begun.

“When we arrived closer to the border, I was in touch with Israeli representatives from the consulate who tried to help, but it was very complicated once we were right at the crossing. There were other Israelis with babies who were in need of help as well.”

“There was so much anger and tens of thousands of people there from women and men, families with babies crying standing in the freezing cold with suitcases and great uncertainty. When I saw that the lines weren’t moving and that I was stuck going nowhere fast, I realized that nothing at this point was in my hands. I would just have to wait for an Israeli rescue vehicle that would hopefully be able to rescue me.”

Finally, after 10 hours of standing and waiting at the border with his suitcase in hand among thousands upon thousands of people, Solomon received the phone call that he had been waiting for.

“I got into a car with another Israeli family that was also rescued and together we crossed the border into Poland.”

Solomon made his way to Warsaw, where he was reunited with his Ben Ezra, and together they flew back to Israel where his family was waiting with open arms and tears of gratitude 60 hours after his journey out of Kiev began.

“I was very concerned and I was scared for him as my heart hurt from the entire situation,” said Ayala, Solomon’s mother, as she tried to hold back tears. “I knew that the weather was tough, he was alone and that was difficult for me. We didn’t see the horizon or the light at the end of the tunnel. We were all so worried.”

Manor’s father, Yossi, was also thrilled to have his son back home.

“The most important thing is that he is back with us and his nightmare is over,” said Yossi. “We are pained and so sorry as to what is happening there and it is very sad. Hopefully this will end soon and things will go back to how they were beforehand.”

For Solomon, with his club team not active at this point and with rumors that have been swirling around about his future over the past year, the big question is where will be playing his next game?

There are a number of top-level teams who are interested in his services and he will play for Israel in a pair of friendlies next month against Germany and Romania, but the immediate future is quite cloudy at the moment.

“The club doesn’t know what will be as this is an entirely new situation that has so many unknowns. No one knows if the league will return to action this season and hopefully we will have some clarity soon. I am under contract and the transfer window is currently closed, but I will probably move teams this summer regardless. Either way, the war has really flipped things over.”

For the moment , Solomon is very thankful that he is back, safe and sound in Israel, but he is still very concerned with those that he left behind.

“Right now I am happy that I am back with my family and my ordeal is over. I didn’t know what would be, but right now I am here. I want to thank everyone who helped me and I appreciate it so much.

“My heart is with the people who are still there and who have not been able to cross the border. I wish I could help. I am praying for the Israelis, my teammates and the Ukrainian people who can successfully leave the country and I hope that this difficult and complex situation will come to an end soon.”