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Diary of a Ukrainian refugee: ‘My husband was shocked and happy to see me in Kyiv’

Olena Ivannikova and her two children were forced to flee their home in Bucha in February. While based in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, she recently took a short trip to Ukraine to visit family and friends


Olena Ivannikova with her husband Serhii

Olena Ivannikova with her husband Serhii

Olena Ivannikova with her husband Serhii

I’m just back from Ukraine, where I got to see my husband Serhii for the first time in four months. I travelled alone because it’s still too dangerous to bring the children.

I flew to Warsaw first, then took a bus to Lviv and a taxi and another bus from Lviv to Kyiv.

It was a surprise for my husband to see me in Ukraine. He did not know I was planning to go home. He only knew about it when I was in a bus heading to Kyiv.

He was working on a family matter at the time and he was calling me constantly with questions about it. He thought I was in Ireland and I knew from talking to him that he was in Kyiv. Eventually I said to him: “Please wait for me. I am in Ukraine, on a bus. In 20 minutes I will be there. Will you pick me up?”

At first he thought it was a joke. He was so shocked and happy when he realised it wasn’t.

Seeing Ukraine after all these months was very difficult. I cried inside when I saw the destroyed houses and buildings in my home town. On my way to Kyiv, I saw my cousin’s house — half of it was destroyed. Every second house is ruined. The walls and windows of the maternity hospital are covered in bullet holes.

Along the road, there are burned and ruined petrol stations, supermarkets and shops, hotels, people’s houses and flats. Everything we had seen on the news and on messenger channels, I saw with my own eyes in Irpin and Bucha.

The most depressing part was realising how many people had been killed and tortured. In Bucha alone, we have 650 victims among a population of about 30,000.

I saw that huge church in the centre of Bucha — the Church of Andrew the Holy Apostle — where more than 70 people were buried in one big grave. These citizens have of course been reburied, but all the foreign public figures who arrive in Bucha visit this place.

The first evening we spent in our house, just talking and looking around. The next day we went to a birthday dinner of one of our neighbours and friends. Then we spent a couple of days visiting my husband’s parents.

Fuelling the car was a real trial. On our way there and back we couldn’t find diesel anywhere. We managed to get 20 litres with the help of my father-in-law. Returning home in Bucha, we did our best to not be late, in accordance with curfew rules.

The sirens are heard day and night all over Ukraine now. People have become used to it and they don’t react properly, to be honest.

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Our last evening we spent with our friends who invited us for dinner. We drank some wine and we talked a lot about everything. My friend said she observed a lot of lonely “abandoned” men. Many families will be destroyed, she said.

What do I think after my trip to Ukraine? I think we will never be the same. Our children will never be the same. Unfortunately, another 70-80 years must pass before we can begin to forget the effects of this war.

In conversation with Katie Byrne

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