A UKRAINIAN refugee who sought refuge in County Armagh has described the terror she felt as she fled to the Polish border with her three young children.
Nelia Ishunina left her home outside the Ukrainian capital kyiv as Russian troops commanded by President Vladimir Putin closed in on the city after beginning their invasion in late February.
Taking only her three children, Diana (2), Eleonora (5) and Danial (8), the 37-year-old mother had to say goodbye to her husband Yuriy Shenkaruk, who stayed in Ukraine to fight with the country’s armed forces. forces.
After an arduous journey, Nelia arrived in Ireland last month after finding accommodation with her brother-in-law Oleg Shenkaruk, who has lived in Lurgan since 2003.
Speaking through Oleg as an interpreter, Nelia expressed her relief at having escaped the invasion that left more than 1,600 civilians dead last week, according to the Upper Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights.
“It was a panic for us as I had no children’s passports and mine had expired so the uncertainty of that combined with the urgency of having to flee the fighting was frightening. I feared for our lives the whole way,” said Nelia, who before the invasion worked in the office of Mitsubishi Motors in Kyiv.
“We knew we had to get to the Polish border and get to safety. Normally it’s a seven-hour drive, but because so many people were fleeing the roads were blocked, so it took us two days, and all the time my fear was getting worse.”
Once across the Polish border, the journey through Europe to Co Armagh began.
Ukrainian refugees with relatives already in the UK can stay with them under the Home Office’s Ukrainian Family Scheme, while others can apply to stay with people who volunteer for accommodation through Homes for Ukraine.
More than 6,000 people in the north expressed interest in donating their homes when the scheme opened last month.
However, Nelia said she remains concerned for the safety of her husband and others who remained at home to confront Russian forces.
“It’s difficult with the worry I’m dealing with, but we also have to try to keep that fear away from children, because their lives have been turned upside down enough already,” she added.
“They’ve been so nervous with all the changes, but thanks to the older two enrolling in a school here, they can regain some sense of normalcy in their lives.”
Meanwhile, his brother-in-law Oleg praised the work of local authorities in the north to help Ukrainian families.
Oleg is a member of the Ukrainians in Northern Ireland Network, which provides information and updates via social media to those arriving since February, including details of job vacancies.
“The reception from Nelia and others here has been fantastic,” he said.
“To be honest, few of the fleeing people I spoke to would know much about Northern Ireland – they would know more about the south – but they feel safe here, and that’s thanks to the work of so many dedicated people..
“In my case, dealing with Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, I have been very impressed with the help offered to the Ukrainian community and would like to thank them wholeheartedly for their efforts.
“We don’t know when the war will end and the future is so uncertain, but at least many are finding a sense of security after their ordeal in places like Northern Ireland.”
:: The Irish News has teamed up with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) – which brings together charities such as Concern Worldwide, the Red Cross and Save The Children – to raise funds for refugees fleeing Ukraine.
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