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‘The horizon was in flames. It all happened so fast’

Helplessness, horror and heartache for woman watching war from afar


Bombing in Ukraine.

Bombing in Ukraine.

A Ukrainian airport on fire on Thursday.

A Ukrainian airport on fire on Thursday.


Bombing in Ukraine.


BOJENA DEMUS broke down as she drove to work on Thursday.

Her phone had pinged earlier: a video of the airport near her grandmother’s home in Ivano-Frankivsk, on fire. Dark grey plumes of smoke issuing into the sky – captured by one of her cousins from his apartment a few miles away, in the western Ukrainian city she called home for many years.

“I was so shocked because no one expected that this was going to happen because Russian soldiers had been on the border for so long,” Bojena (26) said.

“We thought it was all going to dissipate, then I got a voicemail from my grandmother that the airport was on fire. Then my cousin sent me a video of the horizon in flames. It all happened so fast.”

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The technician was on her way to work at Waters Technologies Ireland when she broke down in a blind panic.

“All I could do was think about my family all day,” the young Wexford mother-of-one said.

Having moved to Wexford with her mother in 2010, Bojena said she was aware of the Russian presence near Ukrainian borders since 2014.

“First it was Crimea. That was very unexpected and a tragic time but because the situation in the Donbass was going on for so many years that is why we were hesitant to believe anything would happen. People in the Ukraine were used to having soldiers at the border all of the time.”
All along, in the back of people’s minds, a rising fear of attack still lingered,” she said.

“We had learned to live with it but this is such a big shock. They didn’t just move into the eastern part, they set off missiles in the western part too where my grandmother, auntie, uncle, cousins and their small babies are. The worst part if that they can’t really leave.”

Under presidential law no man aged between 18 and 60 can evacuate the country, as the war effort ramps up.

“They are needed to go to war which means families can’t travel abroad because the men will be grabbed at the border.”

She said many Ukrainians don’t know what will happen over the coming days, as Vladimir Putin aims to get troops to Kyiv.

“Is he in his right mind? No one trusts his judgment. To do such a terrible thing in the 21st century; I don’t think people wanted to admit it was happening until the very last minute.”

Bojena said there were so many rumours on Thursday surrounding who did what in Ukraine.

“I know there are stories that Ukrainian people were attacking buildings in Ukraine and cities. I highly doubt it. It seems to have been Russian soldiers pretending to be Ukrainians. The footage was recorded for this reason.”

Her last trip to Ukraine was in December 2019.

“It was all peaceful and quiet. You didn’t know there was anything happening that is why I was so shocked that he went as far as he did into Ukraine.

“I just hope that they will get help from somewhere and that someone will step in as Russia is so much bigger. Obviously, they (the Ukrainian army) are outnumbered in terms of manpower and weapons. Young people aged 18 are fighting; I think they are just doomed. I have relatives there and I feel so helpless. I feel I can’t do anything for them; it’s heartbreaking that so many young people have to go to war over such a small piece of land. I just wish they could give Russia what they want so it would stop.”