In the first frantic days after Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, Shakhtar Donetsk, one of Eastern Europe's powerhouse clubs, moved quickly to evacuate its teams and staff members out of harm s way.
But scores of players and staff from Shakhtar's youth academy needed sanctuary.
Phone calls were placed. Buses were arranged. But decisions had to be made quickly, and only about a dozen mothers were able to accompany the boys on the journey. Wartime rules required that their fathers - all men of fighting age, in fact, ages 18 to 60 - to remain in Ukraine. Other families made different choices: to stay with husbands and relatives, to send their boys off alone. None of the decisions were easy to make.
Three months later, the weight of separation, of loneliness — of everything — has taken its toll.
It is a nightmare, it is a nightmare, said Edgar Cardoso, who leads Shakhtar's youth teams. He repeats his words to underline how fragile the atmosphere has become within the walls of the seaside hotel in Croatia that has become the Shakhtar group's temporary home.