‘I Feel Lucky I Got Out’: Israeli Soccer Sensation Manor Solomon Describes Fleeing Ukraine
by Shiryn Ghermezian
Rising Israeli soccer star Manor Solomon opened up to BBC Sport about his experience fleeing Ukraine at the start of its war with Russia last year and eventually making his way to Europe, where he currently plays on loan with Fulham in England’s Premier League.
The 23-year-old had been playing for the Ukrainian soccer team Shakhtar Donetsk for three years and living in Kyiv when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. The war broke out mere days after Solomon returned to Ukraine from Turkey, where Shakhtar was training during the Ukrainian Premier League’s winter break, and while his girlfriend was visiting Israel.
“I woke up to the sound of explosions and sirens. It was like being in the middle of a movie,” the Fulham winger said about what he remembers from that day. “Everyone was panicking because the war had started and didn’t know what to do. I knew I had to get away because it was going to get worse.”
Solomon, who signed with Shakhtar Donetsk from the Israeli team Maccabi Petah Tikva, was 19 when he moved to Ukraine because he wanted to “develop as a player and play in big European matches,” he told BBC Sport. With Shakhtar he won the Ukrainian Premier League twice. He joined Fulham in July 2022 on a one-year deal as part of a FIFA rule that allows Ukraine-based foreign players to temporarily suspend their contracts due to the country’s ongoing war with Russia.
Solomon told BBC Sport he then quickly packed suitcases with his belongings and made his way to the border of Poland, which he arrived at after a 17 hour car ride. He recalled seeing along the way “crazy traffic jams” and the “panic of people running away” with “gas stations blown up.”
He also detailed what unfolded that day in an Instagram post, saying that at the border “there was great chaos and tens of thousands of people, women and men with families and crying babies standing with suitcases in freezing cold, with great uncertainty. When I saw that the queues were not progressing and that I was stuck in place, I realized that nothing depended on me and I was just waiting for an Israeli rescue vehicle that might be able to rescue me.”
Solomon waited at the border for more than 10 hours in frigid temperatures before an Israeli rescue vehicle arrived and transported him, along with an Israeli family, across the border before he eventually made his way back home to Israel, he said in the Instagram post. He told BBC Sport, “I feel lucky I got out.”
“I was running out of food and water. There was nothing to buy,” Solomon said to the publication about the hours he waited at Ukraine’s border with Poland. “I managed to cross the border with the help of Israeli diplomats. If they hadn’t come I don’t know what would have happened to me. My heart goes out to the people who are still there. Last year was the most difficult of my life.”
Solomon is now making headlines around the world with his eye-popping performances thus far with Fulham, which will face Manchester United in the FA Cup on Sunday. He had a difficult start with the team — he suffered a knee injury in August 2022 that required surgery and forced him to sit out games for five months — but he has since scored five goals in five consecutive matches between February and March. In February, Solomon became the first Israeli to score in three straight Premier League games since Ronny Rosenthal did for Liverpool in 1992, according to The Atlantic.
Some of the top soccer clubs in England’s Premier League have recently noted interest in signing Solomon because of his impressive skills on the field after his temporary contract with Fulham ends in the summer.
Fulham will move to the semi-finals of the FA Cup for the first time since the 2001-02 season if it wins its match against Manchester United on Sunday. The semi-finals are set to be held at Wembley Stadium from April 22-23 and Solomon told BBC Sport that playing for Fulham at the iconic stadium “would be a dream.”