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Ex-Morecambe ace Amilcar Codjovi safely back in Manchester as he reminisces on harrowing escape from war-torn Ukraine

AMILCAR CODJOVI is safely back in Manchester with relieved mother Sika Marie after a harrowing escape from the war in Ukraine.

The former Morecambe boy opened up about his fears of a Russian invasion in this column earlier last month, when NATO intelligence reported a huge troop surge at the border.

Amilcar Codjovi is reunited with his mother Sika Marie

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Amilcar Codjovi is reunited with his mother Sika MarieCredit: Dave Pinegar

Codjovi, 20, played for Ukrainian giants Vorskla Poltava, just 90 miles from the Russian border.

But his world was turned upside down when Vladimir Putin ordered his army into battle – and he only escaped the carnage after Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic secured his safe passage to Hungary.

Codjovi, nine teammates and their families, including a toddler, embarked on a grueling, dangerous 48-hour, 900-mile sprint to safety while fearing for their lives.

Putin’s troops moved in the day after Codjovi, who celebrated his 20th birthday. The Morecambe Academy graduate thought he could hear fireworks just before bed but soon found out it was something far worse.

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He told me: “We were staying at club accommodation preparing for a game and I could hear what sounded like gunshots. I said to my teammates: ‘It must be fireworks’ and I went to bed.”

They weren’t firecrackers, and his sleep was soon interrupted by the wailing of air raid sirens. Russian troops were pouring over the border and he had missed calls from worried mum Sika Marie in the UK and father Amadeo, who lives in Spain.

He said: “I was starting to worry. I was scared, worried, and I was like, ‘How do I get out of here? I can’t get stuck here when all this is happening.

“So I quickly packed a suitcase and got ready to get out of there.”

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Codjovi began to regret not listening to the advice of his parents and agent Soriebah Kajue, who all tried to dissuade him from returning to Ukraine after a mid-winter training camp in Turkey.

It soon became apparent that the club’s assurances that they would see to it that their overseas players left the country could not be relied upon as the situation on the ground was deteriorating by the minute.

So Codjovi accompanied a group of 10 footballers and their families, including a toddler, on an epic journey to the Hungarian border.

At times the midfielder feared for his life – he passed tanks, heard explosions and gunfire and at one point had to stop with a flat tyre.

He said: “Poland was much closer but the route was too chaotic. There were too many people on the way there, so we agreed that Hungary is the best option.

While we were changing tires, a fleet of tanks suddenly appeared on the horizon

Amilcar Codjovi

“We filled up and set off. It was so scary, especially when we had to stop because one of the tires blew out.

“It was early in the morning and while we were changing tires, a fleet of tanks suddenly appeared on the horizon.

“I was so scared and feeling like I was in a scene I’d only seen in WWII movies and worried they might open fire on us – but luckily they were Ukrainians!”

Throughout the epic journey, they only stopped for fuel and toilet breaks.

On the first leg of the escape, they were driven by Ukrainians who dropped them off to be picked up by a minivan that would take them close to the border before completing the crossing on foot.

But when they reached the border, the Hungarian guards would not let anyone through the TWENTY-SECOND border unless they were in a vehicle!

Codjovi said: “We were so relieved to have arrived safely at the border, but then suddenly our fears increased again because the Hungarians wouldn’t let us in unless we crossed with a motorized vehicle.

I nearly cried. It was awful that people were trying to make money out of our very desperate situation

Amilcar Codjovi

“So some people decided to take advantage of this and brought cars and minivans to the border charging £1,200 PER PERSON!

“I almost cried. It was terrible that people were trying to make money out of our very desperate situation.”

Just when all hope of entering Hungary seemed to have vanished, Croatian Prime Minister Plenkovic got wind of their plight.

Codjovi told me: “My Croatian teammate Ivan Pesic called his country’s embassy and just as we were considering turning back, he got great news. The Croatian Prime Minister called the embassy in Kyiv and they contacted the border guards – and they let us through!

“Ivan’s parents brought a couple of cars to pick us up on the other side and they dropped me off in Budapest before I flew back to Manchester.”

His mother is so happy to have her son back in the UK and she has spoiled him with her Ivorian cuisine.

The midfielder believes his days at Ukraine are numbered and has a strong desire to play in the EFL next season if a club are interested in signing him.

Codjovi – raised in Madrid by parents from Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau – played youth football for Rayo Vallecano before moving to Manchester with his mother when he was 15.

Both of my parents don’t want me to go back

Amilcar Codjovi

He spent six months at Liverpool before joining Morecambe where he completed his youth system.

He never quite made it into the first-team during his time at Morecambe – but since leaving two years ago he has improved physically to complement his technical skills and has experience of playing alongside and against international footballers.

He said: “I don’t think I’ll be returning to Ukraine any time soon. Both of my parents don’t want me to go back. I’m just relieved to be out there.

“I would love to really try English football and be back here with my family and friends. I think I can do well here because I’m at a much higher level now than when I left here when I was 18.

“I’ve always had the technical ability, but not physically enough. But I know now that I can adapt and be successful here.”

But one thing is for sure – after his harrowing experience in Ukraine, he will work even harder to achieve his dreams.

He said: “My life feels different now. I’ve learned that you have to live life to the fullest – and pursue your ambitions – because you never know what’s going to happen in life. I’m glad to be alive.”

Codjovi, 20, is determined to make the leap to the EFL

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Codjovi, 20, is determined to make the leap to the EFLCredit: Dave Pinegar

https://www.the-sun.com/sport/football/premier-league/4988351/morecambe-amilcar-codjovi-manchester-ukraine/ Ex-Morecambe ace Amilcar Codjovi safely back in Manchester as he reminisces on harrowing escape from war-torn Ukraine

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