AMILCAR CODJOVI is safely back in Manchester with relieved mum Sika Marie after a harrowing escape from the war in Ukraine.
The former Morecambe kid featured in this column at the start of last month about his fears of a Russian invasion as NATO intelligence reported huge troop build-up on the border.
Amilcar Codjovi has been reunited with his mother Sika MarieCredit: Dave Pinegar
Codjovi, 20, had been playing for top-flight Ukraine club Vorskla Poltava, which is only 90 miles away from the Russian frontier.
But his world got turned upside down when Vladimir Putin ordered his army into battle — and he only managed to escape the carnage after the intervention of Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic secured his safe passage into Hungary.
Codjovi, nine team-mates and their families including a toddler hit the road on a gruelling, hazardous 48-hour and 900-mile dash to safety in which they feared for their lives.
Putin’s troops moved in the day after Codjovi celebrated his 20th birthday. The Morecambe academy graduate thought he could hear fireworks shortly before going to bed but soon found out it was something far worse.
He told me: “We were staying in club accommodation preparing for a match and I could hear something that sounded like gunshots. I told my team-mates, ‘That must be fireworks’ and I went to bed.”
They were not fireworks and his sleep was soon interrupted by the wailing sound of air-raid sirens. Russian troops were pouring over the border and he had missed calls from concerned mum Sika Marie in the UK and dad Amadeo, who lives in Spain.
He said: “I started to worry. I was scared, worried and thought, ‘How am I going to get out of this place? I can’t get stuck here with all this happening.
“So I quickly packed a suitcase and got ready to get the hell out of there.”
Codjovi was beginning to regret not listening to the advice of his parents and agent Soriebah Kajue, who all tried to talk him out of returning to Ukraine after a mid-winter training camp in Turkey.
It soon became apparent the club’s assurances they would arrange to get their overseas players out of the country could not be relied upon with the situation on the ground deteriorating by the minute.
So Codjovi joined a party of 10 footballers, their families, including one toddler, on an epic journey to the Hungarian border.
At times the midfielder feared for his life — passing tanks along the way, hearing explosions and gunfire and at one stage being forced to stop due to a flat tyre.
He said: “Poland was a lot nearer but the route was too chaotic. There were too many people heading that way so we agreed Hungary was the best option.
While we were changing the tyre a fleet of tanks suddenly appeared upon the horizon
“We filled up with petrol and got on our way. It was so scary, especially when we had to stop because one of the tyres burst.
“It was in the early hours of the morning and while we were changing the tyre a fleet of tanks suddenly appeared upon the horizon.
“I was so scared and felt like I was in a scene I’d seen only in Second World War movies and was worried they might open fire on us — but thankfully they were Ukrainian!”
On the whole epic journey, they only stopped for fuel and toilet breaks.
The first leg of the escape saw them driven by Ukrainians who dropped them off to be picked up by a minivan that would take them near the border before completing the crossing on foot.
But when they reached the border, Hungarian guards would not let anyone make the TWENTY-SECOND crossing 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 as the Hungarians wouldn’t let us in unless we crossed in a motorised vehicle.
I almost cried. It was terrible that people would try to make money from our very desperate situation
“So some people decided to profit from this and brought cars and minivans to the border charging £1,200 per PERSON!
“I almost cried. It was terrible that people would try to make money from our very desperate situation.”
Just when it looked like all hope had gone that they could enter Hungary, Croatian Prime Minister Plenkovic got wind of their plight.
Codjovi told me: “My Croatian team-mate Ivan Pesic was calling his country’s embassy and, just as we were thinking about turning back, he got some great news. The Croatian prime minister had called the embassy in Kyiv and they contacted the border guards — and they then 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 mum is so happy to have her son back in the UK and she has been spoiling him with her Ivorian cooking.
The midfielder believes his days playing in Ukraine are numbered and has a strong desire to play in the EFL next season if a club is interested in signing him.
Codjovi — brought up in Madrid by parents from the Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau — played youth football for Rayo Vallecano before moving to Manchester with his mum when he was 15.
Both my parents don’t want me going back
He spent six months at Liverpool before joining Morecambe where he graduated through their youth system.
While at Morecambe, he never quite broke into the first team — but since leaving two years ago he has beefed up physically to compliment his technical ability and has experience of playing alongside and against international footballers.
He said: “I don’t think I’ll be going back to Ukraine anytime soon. Both my parents don’t want me going back. I’m just relieved to be out of there.
“I’d love to have a proper go at English football and be back here among my family and friends. I believe I can do well here because I’m now at a much higher level than when I left here at the age of 18.
“I’ve always had the technical ability but was not physical 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 realise his dreams.
He said: “My life now feels different. I’ve learned you must live life to the fullest — and go for your ambitions — because you never know what’s going to happen in life. I’m happy to be alive.”
Codjovi, 20, is determined to get a crack at the EFLCredit: Dave Pinegar