Five-year-old Dmytro Matiashchuk sits on the floor of the Travelodge hotel in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, playing with the only toy he now owns – a tiny robot.
He loves Lego and dinosaurs, but in the horrific moments that led to his family fleeing their home in Kharkiv, Ukraine, his childhood belongings, the precious toys and books that colored his little world, were left behind.
“He says the dinosaurs stayed to protect our apartment,” says Dmytro’s mother, Iryna (39). Irish Independent.
“We had to go … we were short on time.”
Decisions about what to take and what to leave behind in those final moments, before Iryna and her family gave up the only home and life they have ever known, were made with little thought and much panic.
As they unpacked what few belongings they could stuff into suitcases on their escape on Wednesday, the frantic contents spilled onto the bed of a budget Dublin hotel room on Wednesday – family photos ripped from refrigerator doors, precious religious relics, then, among the few essentials, a single children’s shoe that lacks the right one.
On Wednesday evening, the family – Iryna and her two children and her twin sister Halyna Halushko, Halyna’s husband Volodymyr and their three children and Volodymyr’s adult sister Olga – arrived in Ireland.
Unlike other refugees who arrived here from the war-torn region this week, they have no relatives or friends in Ireland and are among the first to be placed in temporary accommodation by the state pending arrangements are made for their settlement.
Kharkiv, the city they fled from, has come under heavy and sustained shelling in recent days as Russian troops step up efforts to take the city.
A rocket attack hit a police headquarters in Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, on Wednesday morning.
The regional governor said at least 21 people were killed and 112 injured.
When Russia began invading Ukraine nine days ago, the women and their families fled to an underground bunker to shelter from the attack.
“The attacks began and we had no food or electricity,” Halyna said through a translator.
“The first night we slept in the air-raid shelter, but the children cried and it was very cold.
“Next to ours, another block of flats was destroyed, as was the school.
“We have a child with special needs who needs special help and medication and we couldn’t risk her health so we decided to put our lives on the line and leave.”
Together with their husbands and children, Iryna and Halyna traveled by car towards the Romanian border.
The group each had a suitcase, some packed only with duvets to keep them warm at night.
After three days, they joined the long line of vehicles near the border.
“We realized there was no way we could wait for the line to pass,” Iryna said.
“We had to leave the car and walk to the border with the children.
“My husband Vitalii stayed behind at the border with the car and is now helping women and children at the border.”
In Romania, a priest arranged for the group to stay with a family and it was suggested that they travel to Ireland to apply for refugee status.
No one in the group had any connection to the country, but there was little hesitation and flights were soon arranged.
Oleksandra Pischeiko, an Irish-Ukrainian living in Dublin, met them at the airport and took them to their hotel, which they now call home.
“Why Ireland?” says Halina.
“Decision making in those moments. There are no real thoughts or considerations.
“You just do what you think is best.
“We came here and the first night at the hotel the kids said they felt safe because there were no bombs or grenades.
“Obviously they still have that feeling of nervousness and insecurity, but they’re more relaxed.
“We were welcomed with open arms, given food and shelter and we are so grateful.”
The group has three rooms, each with three beds.
They are not allowed to leave the hotel until the end of the seven-day Covid-19 isolation period next week.
After that, they say, their future is unknown.
Right now, the women spend their days distracting the children who have been given clothes and toys by volunteers, but they worry about their mental well-being.
The televisions in their rooms remain switched off and the adults do their best to shield the little ones from what is happening at home.
Iryna, a human resources manager at an IT company forced to leave her husband behind, focuses on the couple’s two children – Dmytro, the Lego enthusiast, and Vadym, 14.
“Vadym is the man of the house now.
“He is responsible for the whole family now that his father is staying in Ukraine,” she says.
“He turned 14 the day we crossed the border.
“He plays volleyball and misses his friends a lot,” she said.
Iryna puts on a brave face for her two boys, but she worries about her husband.
She loves him very much and misses him.
Among her prized possessions is one of his t-shirts, its familiar smell a source of comfort amid the sadness felt by his absence.
“We were never apart,” she says.
“I spoke to him yesterday. Thank goodness there’s a cell phone connection and we can make video calls.
“It’s tough and I’m concerned for his safety but right now I know my main responsibility is with the kids and as a mother.
“I pray every day that we will be reunited.”
Halyna and Volodymyr have three children – Vitalii (13), Oleksandr (9) and their youngest Kateryna (8).
Vitalii dreams of becoming an engineer and is described as “very talented and clever”.
“He just won a national math competition and the war prevented him from continuing with it,” says his mother.
“He had a very good teacher at home and I’m worried now that he lost his mentor. Oleksandr, our middle child, is also very smart.
“He wants to be just like his older brother.”
Kateryna is kind and sweet, says her mother, but life hasn’t been easy for her.
“She suffers from myasthenia,” says Halyna. “She has special needs and suffers from muscle weakness and fatigue.
“She flares up when she’s stressed and she needs a lot of grooming.”
Halyna, a bank’s regional director, says she is worried about the future of her children, especially her eldest son.
“He had a bright future ahead of him,” she says.
“He has left school and will not have an education for some time and I am concerned about what will happen.”
Both women feel relieved but also guilty about the fate of those left behind.
“The past week has been a nightmare for us,” says Halyna.
“We saw destroyed houses, bombings, fires.
“Children cry and their parents die. It was like a horror movie.
“It is a great relief for us to have our children alive and safe here.
“But we still think of our friends and relatives back home.
“We’re part of a chat group on our block of flats,” she said.
“A pair of twins were born in the bomb shelter and their parents died. Someone in the group is texting and asking if anyone can accommodate these children?
“We are the lucky ones because we made the quick decision to leave the country, fearing our children would be left without parents.
“The future for us is uncertain, but we are all alive and our children have a chance at a future.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/fleeing-their-home-for-ireland-a-country-where-they-know-nobody-this-family-consider-themselves-the-lucky-ones-41413983.html This family flees their homeland to Ireland – a country where they know no one – and consider themselves the ‘lucky ones’.