Lucas Rangel left KuPS in Finland to Ukraine to join the country’s Premier League club, Vorskla Poltava on August 31, 2021. Unfortunately for the 27-year-old Brazilian forward, he did not play for more than six months before Russia’s troops invaded Ukraine.
The invasion forced football to a halt and people in the country started fleeing from the country to safety.
Hence, the game changed for Lucas Rangel, his focus shifted from pursuing his football career to finding a way to exit Ukraine alive.
After the invasion on February 24 and the outright outbreak of the war, Rangel began his journey to exit the country with two of his friends.
Rangel who started his quest of leaving Ukraine on the Thursday Russian troops started bombarding the country was able to make it to Brazil, his home country a week after.
Three days before Russia’s invasion, Lucas Rangel and his club’s teammates just returned to Ukraine from Turkey where they spent the winter break.
According to the 27-year-old Brazilian footballer, he suspected that the invasion might happen a few days before it happened. He contacted the Brazilian embassy for help but the help did not come. Hence, he had to find a way to survive alone.
“I spent the day thinking how I would be able to get out,” Lucas said according to Dailymail. “I had money on me and the car had a full tank of fuel, but the city was already in chaos. There were a lot of people in the supermarkets, there was a 20-liter limit on petrol. It was already a war scene.”
Lucas Rangel said he started his quest to exit Ukraine with a backpack containing water, biscuits, a banana, and two power banks to recharge his phone’s battery. He was in the company of two of his friends and a Brazilian priest.
Luckily for him, his wife and his two children were in his hometown, the Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. Hence, he didn’t have to worry about their safety. All he had to do was to update them about the progress of his journey.
As he continued his journey out of Ukraine to the Polish border, Lucas Rangel came across a series of refugees comprised of women and children trying to make their way out of Ukraine.
“Man, we saw a lot of things,” Lucas said. “People abandoning their cars, their homes… I left almost everything behind. The landlord called me on Thursday to ask what he should do with my stuff. I told him to keep what he can in a box and take the rest. We couldn’t leave with much.
“We were afraid to die and there was a chance. We took a longer route and kept it ongoing. Even then, we heard one of Russia’s aircraft coming towards us, into Kyiv, and we were afraid they would fire and hit us.”
How Lucas Rangel became a hero
As he was trying to return to his family in Brazil, Lucas Rangel came in contact with a US-based Brazilian influencer called Anderson Dias through his agent.
Dias was already in America but wanted to rescue the mother of his Ukrainian wife who was stuck in Ukraine amid Russia’s bombardment.
Lucas agreed to go back to rescue the woman named Tetiana since she was not too far from where the footballer was.
“I reached her, she had to leave everything behind,” Lucas said. “By car, to reach Lviv, it would normally take about 13 hours. Our journey took 30. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t sleep.
“We saw Ukrainian soldiers, a cannon, which had blasted a hole in a car, and many abandoned animals. My wife knew my location wherever we had internet. I thought that if anything happened to me at least she would know where I was. We had to abandon the car to reach the Poland border.
“I carried my pack and also Tetiana’s, feeling the pain in my body and I’m still sore, but there was so much adrenaline. I forgot to eat. I was dizzy due to a lack of sleep. It was like someone had punched me in the head. But we had to keep on going.”
When he got to the Polish border after 30 hours of walking, the Brazilian footballer met a crowd of people who were also trying to cross from Ukraine to Poland.
“I saw Ukrainian fathers saying goodbye to their families”, Lucas said. “Women and children could go on, but the men were obliged to stay.
“People were rude at the border. They pushed us back a few times. One of my friends almost fell. Children were crying. People were suffering. It was like that. Thank God we were able to pass on foot and leave that hell behind.”
Lucas Rangel finally reunites with his family
When they got to the Polish border, Lucas Rangel and his company boarded a bus into Poland. When they got to town, they lodged in a hotel.
From there, Anderson Dias contacted a Brazilian businessman called Leonardo Freitas, who organized a flight for Lucas, his friends, and Dias’ mother. The plane flew them to Portugal.
From there, Lucas Rangel connected a flight to Brazil and reunited with his family on Thursday, 3 March 2022.
Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the plan was that Lucas’ wife and his two children would fly from Brazil to Ukraine after the winter break. But before they could complete the arrangement, the war had already started.
“It would be a thousand times harder to do all this with them,’ the Brazilian footballer said.
“I was one of the few people worried about an invasion. The Ukrainian people didn’t believe it, the club didn’t believe it… the embassy as well.
“I gave an interview before all this, speaking about my concerns, and people made fun of me, saying: “You can sleep in my bunker if something happens and things like that. One apologized. Man, it was so sad. These good people facing all this… a country in which I was happy, playing well, having good treatment.
“When the war erupted, I could only think of my family. I can’t imagine what the Ukrainian people are feeling.”
Since FIFA have suspended all the contracts of the foreign footballers tied to clubs in Ukraine for the rest of the 2021-2022 season, Lucas Rangel is free to join another club outside the country.
He has scored 9 goals and provided 1 assist in 21 games for the Ukrainian club before the war broke out. His contract with Vorskla Poltava is expected to expire on June 30, 2023.