Svitlana Gavrylovska, a volunteer at the Wicklow Ukraine Hub, has spoken of the generosity of Wicklow people, who have moved her to tears with their support since she arrived in the county having fled the war in Ukraine with her two sons.
The 39-year-old comes from Zhytomyr, a town in northern Ukraine to the west of the capital Kyiv. She left her home at the start of the conflict in February, moving to her parents house as they had a deep basement they could shelter in. More of her family began to gather there as the war closed in.
"We’ve got a beautiful life in our house with my husband, two sons and our lovely dog Darvin,” she said. “But on 24th of February 2022 everything changed. Many of our friends began to leave the country, I did not want to leave my family and husband.
“We began to hear explosions one after another. It was so scary, we didn't know what to do, there was a terrible panic. My family and I decided to collect documents and go to my parents, who had a deep basement in their house.”
She added: “In the first days of the war we heard explosions, and then there was an air alarm all over the city. One afternoon, we went for a walk with the children, enemy fighters flew over us. It was so scary, it seemed we would not have time to run into the basement.
“We were all very nervous and exhausted. At night we slept dressed and felt the ground tremble from the explosions.
“My husband Andrii told me that we should leave Ukraine for the safety of our children. Our eldest son Danylo had to finish school this school year and go to university. The children could neither think nor study – ordinary life stopped for everyone.”
Svitlana decided to go to join some of family in Ireland. She had never travelled so far without her husband, but says she had to be strong ‘for the sake of the children’ Danylo and Mark.
Once in Ireland, Svitlana was offered a guest house in Kiltimon, near Ashford and said: “We were pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of the Irish people . We felt such great support.
“One day we went to the social centre to draw up documents and when we returned to our house there were many gifts for us, lots of food, fruits, sweets.
“We cried at this, it moved us so much, and the owner of the house is an incredible man who has a fabulous garden with incredibly beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers.”
Svitlana said she has struggled with the language barriers, but added: “I am very grateful to my relatives in Ireland because it is so difficult to come to a country with another language. But it's all the matter of time. I keep telling myself not to be afraid of anything. Even if you don't speak grammatically correctly, people will understand you.”
She aims to give Danylo the opportunity to study Computer Science in an Irish University, and wants both her children to live a normal life.
“Thanks to my cousin's wife, my sons were able to go to wonderful schools in Wicklow - Educate Together and Coláiste Chill Mhantáin,” she said
“I was worried about my younger son because his level of English was not high, but to my great surprise he said that it was the best school in the world - the Ukrainian school programmes is more difficult for children.”
Svitlana has also joined and helped open the Wicklow Town Ukrainian Hub, Palyanytsya, where she volunteers regularly.
“We have great support from Wicklow County Council,” she said. “The Ukrainian hub is the place where all Ukrainian people can gather and chat, share experiences and empathise with each other.
“We have a lot of donations from the Irish and it is such a great help for us in difficult times. Some people have no money at all and they have no opportunity to buy the necessary clothes, so we are very pleased to support them in such a difficult period.”
And although the Ukrainian war continues, Svitlana said: “We must hold together for the victory of our soldiers who are defending Ukraine.
“Thanks a million to the incredible people of Ireland for such incredible support. Thank you for the shelter for the opportunity to stay alive.”