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Diary of a Ukrainian refugee: ‘One minute I’m happy my child is safe, then I feel guilty I’m still alive’


Anastasiia Tkachuk and son Tymofii: ‘I was running behind cars and screaming that we had sick children with us’. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Anastasiia Tkachuk and son Tymofii: ‘I was running behind cars and screaming that we had sick children with us’. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Anastasiia Tkachuk and son Tymofii: ‘I was running behind cars and screaming that we had sick children with us’. Photo by Steve Humphreys

We were in a panic the day the war started. We knew we had to leave and, as we read the news, I started to gather clothes, food and medicines as fast as I could.

We went to my husband Serhii’s parents’ house in a neighbouring city first. They have a house with a basement that has a better shelter than ours.

But then we began to consider the needs of our nine-year-old son, Tymofii, who has cystic fibrosis. He needs to take medicine and do inhalation therapy two to five times a day. If his health deteriorates, he needs hospitalisation.

We understood that we could buy medication anywhere, but if we didn’t have electricity, he wouldn’t be able to use his nebuliser. At that moment we weren’t thinking about bombing or shooting, we were only thinking about treatment for our child.

The journey to the border was terrible. We were travelling with another family whose son has spinal muscular atrophy. He was in a very difficult condition due to his disease and his nebuliser had only six hours of battery life.

We had very little time. There was a huge queue and I was running behind cars and screaming that we had sick children with us. Eventually we saw an ambulance and we were able to share the road with them.

The Indo Daily: 'We took our documents, our clothes and ran' - Inside Ukraine's refugee crisis

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At this point, we weren’t sure if my husband would be passed through by customs. The law says that fathers of children with disabilities can leave Ukraine but we didn’t know what would happen. I was ready to leave my husband and take care of our son alone but, thankfully, we had no problems at the border.

We arrived in Dublin on a cold, rainy evening in the middle of March. We lived in a hotel for a few days and our first impressions of the country were not good. It was so cold and we found everything so expensive.

The weather was much better the next day and then we met our host family, Aideen and Niall and their wonderful dog, Boris, in Phibsboro, Dublin. They are both young people of our age and they are amazing. They have a beautiful house that has become a short-term home for us and they take a very active role in helping Ukrainians as volunteers.

Aideen and Niall have become our friends. They support us every step of the way and give us a lot of advice. We have dinner together every day and we speak a lot about war, politics and history. Aideen is a doctor and she helps our son with his treatment, which is so important to us. They have shown us around the city and told us lots of useful and interesting things about Dublin and Irish people.

I think there are lots of similarities between Irish and Ukrainian culture. Irish people understand war and occupation, language and religious issues. Like us, they have experience of being one of the poorest countries in Europe. People here are very open-minded. When they help, it comes from the heart.

Our son is happy here and he has just been accepted into a local school. Initially we thought we could rent an apartment, but it’s very expensive. Hopefully, with time, we can find somewhere.

My husband is still able to do his work remotely, but I had to leave my job. I worked for a charity organisation, helping sick children, and I’m finding it hard not having something to do. I looked at some Irish job websites and I think I could find some work as a house cleaner. But I also want to be useful to Ukraine, so I’m going to volunteer.

My emotions are up and down right now. One minute I’m happy that my child is safe, then I have a huge feeling of guilt that I left my home and the people of Ukraine, that I’m safe and still alive. Then comes a powerful feeling of hatred and hopelessness.

We lived in Lviv, which people thought was safe because it’s close to the Polish border. Last week it was bombed, not far from our house.

A lot of families who have members with cystic fibrosis have stayed in Ukraine. It’s almost impossible for them to get treatment. They have no electricity, water, food… this hurts me the most, and my English doesn’t allow me to express all my feelings.

As with millions of Ukrainians all over the world, I miss my granny, my work and my friends. We left everything behind: parents, my job, our possessions… But we are together and we are safe, and that’s the main thing.

The war has taught me that family is the most important thing in life. Money, houses and cars don’t matter when war comes to your door. True happiness comes from being healthy and being together.

In conversation with Katie Byrne

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