(Associated Press)

Six South American players are refusing to return to Shakhtar Donetsk, their Ukrainian professional soccer team, instead remaining in France after its friendly against Lyon on Saturday, the Associated Press is reporting.

The city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine is being held by pro-Russian rebels as the conflict between the two countries continues. The Ukrainian military is attempting to retake Donetsk, and tens of thousands of civilians have fled ahead of the possible siege.

Rinat Akhmetov, the team’s billionaire owner, has promised dire sanctions if the six players — Brazilians Alex Teixeira, Douglas Costa, Ismaily, Fred and Dentinho and Argentine striker Facundo Ferreyra — do not return to the team.

“If they don’t come then in the first instance they will suffer,” Akhmetov said in a statement Monday on the Shakhtar Web site, the AP reports.

The team next plays Tuesday in a Ukrainian Super Cup match against Dynamo Kiev, which will be played in the western city of Lviv.

Here’s the AP with more:

Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu accused the players’ agent, Kia Joorabchian, of being behind their decision to stay in France.

Lucescu told French newspaper L’Equipe that Joorabchian, who is also the agent for Juventus forward Carlos Tevez, convinced the players not to return to Ukraine after telling them they would be able to sign new contracts with other clubs.

“It’s a true scandal,” Lucescu said. “He took advantage from the situation to abduct them.”

Players who refuse to honor their contracts can be suspended for four months by FIFA, which also can impose transfer embargoes on their club teams.

Shakhtar has qualified for this year’s Champions League group stage, and the Ukrainian Premier League begins play on Friday. The team still doesn’t know where it will play its home games, though “Akhmetov has expressed a preference for the mostly Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv in the northeast,” the AP reports.

“We aren’t going to take risks and in no way will we take players to somewhere that is dangerous,” he said.

Three other Ukrainian pro teams — Metalurh Donetsk, Olimpik Donetsk and Zorya Luhansk — hail from cities held by pro-Russian rebels and will play their games elsewhere as the conflict continues.