Where were you when the war started?
I was in Kyiv, in my bed. When the first bombs exploded I thought there was a big thunderstorm outside. It was in the middle of the night so I went back to sleep. When I woke up in the morning I found out the horrible news.
What was your first reaction after it was confirmed that Russia had invaded?
I immediately spoke to my players – I asked them not to panic. The league was suspended some hours later. We wanted the players together so we asked them to come to the club’s training camp. I wanted to stay with the team but roads were getting blocked, and hundreds of thousands were leaving their homes. The foreign embassies insisted that I left. So, finally, I returned to Romania thinking I could help more from there than if I stayed in the training camp.
How was the journey to your homeland?
Very long and heartbreaking, as you could see families with young children leaving their homes. The queues at the border were kilometres long. Some people didn’t want to wait anymore and they just abandoned their cars, took their children and walked for five kilometres or more to reach the border.
And then you started trying to help your players and their families.
Yes, I immediately started making efforts to get the Ukrainian players’ families out; I got involved with the foreign players as well. We organised two buses. There were mainly women and children, their family pets, a parrot – we tried not to leave anyone behind. We brought everyone to Romania and made sure they had everything they needed in those long hours full of uncertainty. UEFA’s boss, [Aleksander] Čeferin, supported the whole thing. His help and commitment were fantastic during those days.
So at least your players had the comfort that their families were being taken care of.
That’s what we wanted. The players were camped near Kyiv, then they went to the west, where they did some training to keep their fitness. Then we managed to get them out of the country as well so that they could play in the Global Tour for Peace, and stay in shape for the national team games in June.
Did any of the players sign up for the army?
No, but there were club employees who did.