Nadia Dobrianska, a fluent Irish speaker, and her family were forced to make the heartbreaking decision to flee their home of Kyiv in Ukraine three weeks ago as they heard the first blasts of the Russian invasion.
Now settled with a host family in east Cork, Ms Dobrianska said she is “shattered” physically and emotionally from their journey to Ireland, but that the support they have received from Irish people has been “unbelievable”:
I'm just pinching myself and thinking, is this a dream? Is it going to end soon?” she said.
Ms Dobrianska, her parents, her cousin’s wife and three-month-old daughter all made the arduous journey over the Polish border and o to Ireland, fleeing Kyiv as the first blasts began to echo in the early hours of 24 February.
“The trip to Ireland was fairly rough. The Polish border was very crowded, plódaithe le daoine. My estimate is that we spent about 30 hours queuing on the border, my cousin’s wife would say it was more, but with a three-month-old baby even 30 hours is bad enough,” she said.
Having a web of connections here from a year and a half spent studying in Queens University in Belfast, Ms Dobrianska said friends of friends had arranged travel and accommodation for herself and her family. Ms Dobrianska said she is grateful that the risk of accepting help from virtual strangers in Ireland paid off.
I was nervous of course, but it's all worked out well,” she said.
When they arrived into Dublin airport, “barely breathing after a sleepless night”, she said they were welcomed by “nice and helpful” officials in the airport one-stop shop, offering her anything she and her family needed.
Despite having no international travel documents for her mother or cousin-in-law’s baby, they were all given PPS numbers after a couple of hours, free SIM cards, and were safe in their host home in Cork that evening. Money raised by local charities is supporting their expenses until they can be more independent.
Although they have now made it to safety, Ms Dobrianska said she is still processing the trauma she has experienced.
There are also airplanes here now and again, and they're petrifying me,” she said.
“And I haven't even lived through proper bombings like lots of Ukrainian people have, because we left without waiting for any explosions. We didn't live through as much horror as some people have. We're lucky in this respect,” she added.
Ms Dobrianska said there is an overwhelming feeling of guilt amongst everyone she knows from Ukraine, whether they fled or chose to stay. She said she feels guilty that she left, especially as able-bodied men, such as her brother and cousin, had no choice but to stay and fight. She said others who stayed feel guilty for putting their families in danger.
As she works for a human rights project, Zmina, Ms Dobrianska said she hopes to continue her work remotely from Ireland, with her colleagues who are also now scattered across Ukraine and overseas, to start recording war crimes committed during the current Ukrainian invasion.
The family celebrated St Patrick’s Day at their host home, which Ms Dobrianska said was all they were able to manage in the circumstances.
“We had a lovely celebration at home, we had dinner, it was all very calm. It was the first day when I took a day off from worries and doing work. But even if I went to a parade, I would be feeling dead inside, I can't really celebrate,” she said.
“Because it’s really, really devastating, soul-destroying, knowing that I could get news about my friends, or my grandmother and my aunts who didn't want to leave, they can be killed any moment. It's like, just dying a little every day,” she added.