Sports

Two athletes, including American hooper Mo Creek, escaped from Ukraine


A burning building is pictured after the shelling is said by Russian forces in Ukraine’s second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 3, 2022.

A burning building is pictured after the shelling is said by Russian forces in Ukraine’s second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 3, 2022.
Image: Getty Images

There are a lot of harrowing things coming out of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, including sports figures who are literally coming out of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Maurice Creek, an American basketball player trying to make a career overseas, and Paulo Fonseca, a former soccer player turned manager, each had a hell of a time escaping the war-torn country.

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Creek, a former Indiana and George Washington standout, is safely in Bucharest, Romania, awaiting a flight home, according to ESPN. And Fonseca, a Portuguese football manager, is back in his home country, per Sky Sports. Both escapes are terrifying tales, and it’s a huge relief they made it out alive.

The stories — which are worth reading, especially Aishwarya Kumar’s incredibly detailed piece on Creek — feature similarities: Fear, the sounds of sirens and missiles exploding, stays in bomb shelters, worried family members, excruciatingly slow drives, a deep gratitude for safety, and concern about the growing conflict.

What stood out as far an angle worth writing about was the differences.

Fonseca, whose wife is Ukrainian, returned to the country from a vacation in the Maldives to help his in-laws leave the country. Creek was playing professionally for MBC Mykolaiv and stayed because he hadn’t been paid yet as team officials downplayed the conflict, and refused to let him out of his contract, saying the league would not be suspended.

It took Fonseca 30 hours to exit Ukraine, and he’s already home in Portugal. Creek’s trip out of the country took four days, and he still isn’t home yet. Fonseca spoke with the Portuguese embassy, and they sent a car to pick up him and his family, and then drove them across the border.

Creek hitched a ride with his assistant coach’s Ukrainian wife and her mother, who dropped him at the Moldovan border where he waited in a line for nine hours before he could cross. (Note: There was no mention of a line at the border or crossing it in Fonseca’s story.)

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If you’re thinking, “Good lord, is this guy really going to lecture us on race again?” I’m sorry, but it’s important to remember that race and socio-economic status forever play a factor in people’s ability to flee from harm. It’s why during the COVID, rich people were able to pack up high-rise condos and move to isolated nature havens while poor people left in urban areas where the virus spread.

I’m not saying it’s why it took a journeyman basketball player longer to get out of a warring country than the ex-manager of Roma, but it’s hardly a coincidence.

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Creek couldn’t fly out of the country because he hadn’t been paid, and the wait for a family member to wire money would’ve taken too long. Also, it was lucky he was an American because Creek heard reports of Black emigrants having issues at the border.

Here’s a portion from Kumar’s piece:

“[Creek] had made it to the border, but he knows he isn’t safe yet. He had heard reports that Black emigrants, like himself, were being sent back, made to wait for days before being allowed into neighboring countries. He grabs his American passport tight and tells himself that he will beg them to let him enter, if it comes to that.

When he reaches the front of the line, he’s asked to move to the side. The border officials let people behind him in. Then, they ask him for his passport. They see it’s American, and they ask him to wait, leaving with his passport. The 10 minutes he waits feels like another nine hours.

They come back, hand him his passport. And wave him in.

He calls his mom.

‘Mom, I am a free man!’ he yells into the phone.

He hears a wail in response.”

Not all phone calls have had wails of happiness and relief on the other line. And even if they are genuinely joyful, as was the case with Creek’s mom, Pammy, there’s still concern for those who aren’t as fortunate.

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“I’m crying tears of joy, because Maurice is out,” she told ESPN. “I’m crying for the souls that are still there. I’m crying and praying for people who have lost their loved ones. I’m crying for the lady and her daughter who had to leave their son and husband behind.”

Fonseca was left similarly shaken.

“I’m seeing all Europe trying to help everyone. I understand the political situation, but I have to say it’s not enough. I don’t know what more we can do, but we have to do more.”

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