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‘It was like hell’


FAMILY FLEE WAR The first refugees to arrived in Mayo from the Ukraine were Natasha and Vassily with their children Tima, Tisma and Nonna. They are pictured in the Candle of Grace headquarters near Islandeady with Cllr Michael Kilcoyne and Lily Luzan.

First refugee family arrives and describe their home country as ‘hell on earth’

Michael Gallagher

On Sunday evening, three families fleeing the war in Ukraine found refuge in West Mayo. They left their jobs, their homes and their way of life behind and arrived in Mayo with little more than the clothes on their back – but they were safe and that’s all that mattered.
They had been directed to the Islandeady-based charity Candle of Grace as soon as they landed in Dublin Airport on Sunday morning, and a few hours later were being welcomed with open arms. Vassily, his wife Natasha and their children, Nonna (12), Tima (10) and Tisma (8), arrived at the charity’s base from where they spoke with The Mayo News (pictured right).
Their journey had been arduous and frightening, and the stress showed on Natasha’s face as she spoke.
“Vassily was already in Europe working as a roofer, and we were at home living our regular ordinary lives. I was taking care of the kids, and they were just being young, doing their school stuff playing with their friends, when suddenly this war came and it was like hell on earth.
“We left our home behind, we left everything behind and made our way to the border with Czech Republic. We got across, and a friend of Vassily’s picked us up and brought us to Prague Airport, but we had to wait there a long time.
“We didn’t have enough money to buy the tickets and had to wait for cheaper ones to come up. Vassily had sent us money, but there was a problem with accessing it, and we were there three days until we got on a flight to Dublin.
“We’re here now and safe, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We want to work and pay our way while we’re here and help people who helped us,” Natasha added.

Emotional scenes
Also in Leitir were Margarita and Vladimir Pavlenko. The Professor of Pulmonology and her dentist husband had left their home in the beautiful city of Lviv in order to join their son, Victor, in Ireland. The three were happy to sit in Islandeady and tell their story.
“We left everything behind but what do you choose – possessions or life? We made the decision to live and just turned the key in the door and came west. Our house might still be there or it might not, but we’re here and safe,” Margarita stated.
Later that evening, a mother and her three children from Ukraine arrived in Castlebar, where emotional scenes were played out, according to Lily Luzan of Candle for Grace.
“We took them to stay in my home because it was late,” Lily told The Mayo News. “The little boy thought he was coming to Castlebar to meet his daddy, but when he found no ‘Papa’ here he started to cry.
“He cried for his dad and his toy car at home in Ukraine and it was so sad. We pray that his ‘Papa’ will be safe back home.”