“I am happy in Ireland, They are the best people. I didn’t know there could be such kind people,” says Olga Krivtsova.
The 51 year old Ukrainian woman has been overwhelmed by the warm welcome she has received in Carlingford, since fleeing the besieged city of Mariupol on St Patrick’s Day.
She made the 3,000 journey to Ireland in a Mini Cooper, which she had previously driven from Dublin to Mariupol after buying it while visiting Dublin several years ago.
"I packed my passport, a small bag with some clothes, and took my mother and dog, and drove three days to Lviv. My husband followed in another car with two neighbours who were going to Germany.”
Olga says that she decided to come to Ireland as she already had a good friend lrene living in Dublin and had visited the country in the past.
"I had nothing, no home, no business, she told me to come to Ireland and she would help me.”
The house in Carlingford in which she lives with her husband, mother and dog belongs to a woman whom Irene knows, who immediately offered it when she heard that the family needed somewhere to say.
Making a life in a new country isn’t easy, but she is doing her best to learn English and to get to know the local community.
Her mother, who had been very upset by the war and having to leave home, went missing one evening shortly after they arrived.
Olga recalls how she notified the gardai and spent hours searching for her mother, before discovering that a local family had found the confused 78 year-old and had taken her in to their home before contacting the gardai.
"They were so good and they gave her some treats.”
The family are also grateful to Carlingford/Omeath Red Cross who helped them meet up with other family members who are staying in Donegal.
"My sister and her family lived in a different part of the city. When the war first started, we stayed with her for a few days as we had no gas or electricity. We then went to stay with my mother, but weren’t able to get back to my sister as the area she lived in was cut off by the Russians.”
Olga’s eyes fill with tears as she recalls how, after arriving in Ireland, she didn’t know if her sister was alive or dead.
" For a month I didn't hear from here. I was worried. I came here on March 27th and she called me on April 25th.”
Her sister and family, who had sought refuge in the infamous steelworks, arrived in Ireland two weeks ago.
Barry and Mhairi Kane from Carlingford/Omeath Red Cross brought Olga, her mother and husband to Bundoran to be reunited with her sister and family.
It was an emotional and joyous occasion as their mother didn’t know if she would ever see her daughter and grandson again.
Before the war, Olga enjoyed a comfortable middleclass life in Mariupol. A fashion-designer, she had her own boutique in a large shopping centre, and travelled regularly to Italy to source fabric.
All this is gone. The shopping centre was bombed, her apartment is destroyed.
Looking back on what they endured following the invasion, she says that friends and neighbours came together to look after one and other.
She is worried about what will happen to the old people who were left behind, as it was younger people who did the cooking and got water for them.
Despite the horrors which she has been through, Olga says she is happy in Carlingford.
Although she still dreams about hiding in the basement of her mother’s home, she is making a new life.
She is attending English classes in Dundalk, works one day a week in McKevitt’s Hotel and is helping a local boutique with its social media.
"I am happy. My family are alive, my friends are alive.”