Ukraine war: 'Scared' Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi reveals heroic reason why he refused to leave Kyiv on the day of Russia's invasion
and live on Freeview channel 276
The 43-year-old was at the helm of 13-time Ukrainian Premier League champions Shakhtar Donetsk at the time of Russia’s invasion.
The Italian had already begun to stamp his managerial mark on the Miners, guiding them to Ukrainian Super Cup success in September 2021.
But the tragic events of February 24, 2022 saw De Zerbi’s world turned upside down.
De Zerbi and his Shakhtar team were taken to a hotel in Kyiv with a bunker as Russia began their military advance.
Speaking to Sky Sports News, the Italian said: “I was in Kyiv. It was a very difficult moment. A very sad moment for my life and for my work. And now it has been a year and the situation hasn't changed.”
Kyiv came under intense shelling on the opening day of the invasion as Russia looked to cripple Ukraine’s capital.
But the former Sassuolo and Benevento boss refused to leave the city until Shakhtar’s non-Ukrainian players and families were safely out of the country.
De Zerbi continued: “We were scared but… in our head, we had the idea to help them, and we didn't have much time.
“My family, they didn't understand why I waited and helped the players but when I came back to Italy, I explained to my family the reason and they were happy. They were proud for this.”
The Italian revealed that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came the day after a Shakhtar training session.
The quick turn of events showed De Zerbi that ‘one day can change everything’.
He added: “I learned that one day can change everything. The day before the war started, we played in the training session. We enjoyed with the players and the guys. And the day after, we stayed inside the hotel with the bombs and the shelling.
“I'm watching the news of Ukraine every day and it's not finished… I keep the contact with the people who work in Shakhtar. But it is difficult when you live in another country so far.”
De Zerbi left Shakhtar Donetsk in July 2022 as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Italian was then confirmed as the new head coach of Brighton on September 18, 2022, signing a four-year contract.
While the Italian remains fully committed to the Seagulls’ cause, he revealed that he was desperate to return to Ukraine at the end of the conflict to ‘complete his work’ at Shakhtar.
De Zerbi said: “I told a lot of the times in the past that my idea should be to go back one day to work in Ukraine, to complete my work because I lost my team, I lost my players, and this was a difficult situation to accept in my work.”