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A Long Way to The Emerald Isle

by Nataliia M.


I woke to the sound of bombs in my hometown. It was 5am. My daughter was peacefully sleeping nearby. The war had begun, I understood immediately. The last week passed in a state of anxiety. The news was getting more and more threatening by the day. In addition, my daughter and I contracted Covid. I remember reading the history of the first Chechen war the day before the war started. The Russians killed 200,000 civilians. Not a single person was spared. I made tea and started thinking about what to do next. A go bag had been packed for a long time, but I realised I wouldn’t be able to carry it with a baby. Meanwhile, I saw headlamps outside - people were leaving the city. I called my father and asked him to take us to Cherkasy. That city seemed safer to me. “Pack up,” Dad said. He arrived in three hours. At 10am, we left our home in Vyshhorod. It’s been almost a year since that day.

A Red Necklace My daughter was still sleeping, so I started packing up. Our entire lives fitted into two transparent bags. We felt as translucent as those bags. There were only two bags - a large and a small one. Mostly, I grabbed stuff for my daughter, her clothes, diapers, and a couple of her favourite toys. For me I took some clothes and a red necklace. This red coral necklace is incredibly special to me. This is the last New Year’s gift from my mother. She loved jewellery and clothes and that’s why she used to give them to me. I remember for some reason I was angry with my mother that day. I wanted to celebrate the New Year’s with my boyfriend, but my mother really wanted us to spend this time with my family. It used to be a major family holiday. Many years have passed since then and now I see that my mother was right. At that time, she was already severely ill with cancer, and that was our last New Year together. So, this red coral necklace is very precious to me now as it is a memory of my mother. She died of cancer when I was twenty-three years old. She was very kind and loved me and my brother very much. She also dreamt of grandchildren, but my daughter was born nine years after her death. I remember my mother every day and really miss her, her warmth, her hugs. When I wear a red necklace three thousand kilometres from home, it warms me and reminds me of my mom.

A Rocking Horse Nine days prior to the war, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday. She turned one. It’s not much, but it’s an important date for a little person. We organised a nice celebration with balloons and a cake. Many guests came. Baby Solya was happy because she loves communication and attention. I was very happy to see her smiling. She enjoyed the party. However, the news was getting more and more ominous. My daughter received many gifts. A rocking horse stood out among them. It was a gift from her godmother. “Goyda-goyda,” I said, rolling my daughter on a horse. She burst into cheerful laughter. I have a photo from that day. My daughter is sitting on a rocking horse in a pink dress. She is happy and calm. The war started nine days later. We had to leave our home. We could not take the horse with us. It was left in our apartment in Vyshhorod. And it is waiting for us.

The Way Our way to Ireland was long. We had to go through Cherkasy, Lviv and the Polish city of Łódź. Our journey began on the 24th of February, and it was not until the end of March that we landed in Dublin. I knew little about Ireland. But for some reason this mysterious island always attracted me. I was fascinated by the history and epics of the Celts. Therefore, I was eager to visit their homeland. The movie “P.S. I Love You” made me want to visit Ireland even more. Our journey began when my father took us from Vyshhorod to Cherkasy on February 24th. It seemed to me that it should be calmer here. There are no military facilities in Cherkasy. However, everything turned out to be not quite so. When we first arrived in Cherkasy, the air alarm began. My daughter was frightened by the sharp sound and started screaming. “Shhh, Shhh, Shh. Don’t scream. Mom is with you. I love you”, I repeated sitting in the bathroom. However, this did not help much. The worries were constant. There could be several alarms per night. I was awake and exhausted by then. In addition, we were afraid of a Russian offensive from the north. At that moment, I was actively corresponding with my friend Ksenia. Once I received a message, “Max (Ksenia’s two-year-old son) and I are going to Germany. It’s safer there.” This message disturbed me. Before that, I did not think of leaving Ukraine. As the last option, I thought we could move to my dad’s country house. There we have a stone oven and don’t have to rely on the facilities as much as in town. However, I could not be sure that it was safe and that a Russian missile would not fly there. After some thought, I also decided to go to the west. I asked my friends if they could help us get to Lviv. They agreed. We were supposed to leave at three in the morning the next day. I took our bags, my sleeping daughter, and we went into the unknown.

In Lviv We drove to Lviv for nineteen hours without stopping. It was very difficult. On the way, we saw cities and villages that were damaged by Russian shelling. It was so sad to see once blooming places blackened by smoke. During the journey, we stopped only once in the Ternopil region. At that time, and it was the beginning of March, the Russian missiles had not yet arrived here. I got out of the car, inhaled the air. It was still so peaceful, pre-war. Not yet poisoned by war and anxiety. But later the war came there as well.

“Freedom,” I shouted as I got out of the car and started dancing with my daughter. During the stop, we each bought a hot dog with coffee. It was the tastiest hot dog I’ve ever had. We arrived in Lviv late in the evening and stayed with my friends - my friend Katya and her husband. They were happy to give us shelter. I was finally able to sleep - at that time, anxiety was much less frequent in Lviv. There was almost no noise. We planned to be in Lviv for several days. However, we stayed for almost two weeks, because I caught a bad cold. It was a completely different Lviv than I remembered it during previous trips. All restaurants and bars were closed, and instead of tourists, you could meet soldiers and foreign journalists on the streets. It was challenging to find a place where you could have a coffee. Having recovered from the illness, my friend, her son Rostyslav and I started planning our escape. At first, we thought of going to France, where my friends lived. However, later this idea had to be abandoned. Another friend suggested that we go to Poland, to the city of Łódź. Having collected our things, we set off the next day.

The City of Unicorns - Łódź We went to Poland as a group of four - me, my daughter Solomiya, my friend Lilia and her 6-year-old son Rostyk. We went by bus provided by volunteers, and we managed to pass the control at the border very quickly. I have heard horror stories that some mothers and children stayed at the border for up to 48 hours. We arrived in Łódź in the evening. This city was very different from Ukrainian ones. There was so much light in Łódź! Since the beginning of the war, it was prohibited to have the lights on after a specific time. This meant that there were no streetlights, and the cities sank into darkness the moment the nights fell. Łódź turned out to be extremely comfortable. We walked around the city a lot. It was already spring, and nature was slowly coming to life after winter. In Łódź I could drink coffee in a cafe. It was an unforgettable feeling that we were finally safe. We were in Poland for a little over a week. We stayed with our friends - Tomek and Eva. They were exceedingly kind to us and especially to my daughter, they gave her lots of clothes and toys. Our Polish friends advised us to go to Ireland. For me, Ireland was a very distant country with a long history. Friends helped us get tickets to Dublin. On March 24th, a month after the start of the war, we went to The Emerald Isle.

The Emerald Isle We landed in Dublin around 4 pm. My daughter slept on the plane. I thought about the future that awaited me. My family stayed in Ukraine. Ireland welcomed us very hospitably. On the evening of March 24th, we were accommodated in a hotel. We were happy. We stayed in this hotel for almost six months. This was the longest I’ve ever stayed in a hotel. When we went for a walk the next day, I was surprised at how green Ireland really is. It is indeed the Emerald Island. On the same day, we met an Irish woman called Sara. She was walking with her dog in the park. It was ten degrees outside, but Sarah was only wearing a light dress. “Welcome to Ireland! I’m so sorry you were forced to go through all of this. I hope the war ends soon and Ukraine wins,” Sarah said after listening to my story about the invasion. Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised by the kindness and optimism of the Irish people. What I noticed is that the Irish use the word “lovely” all the time and this shows their positive attitude toward life. My daughter and I were finally able to exhale, and I started sleeping again. This was essential because due to the war, anxiety, and moving, my daughter was sleep-deprived and very anxious. It was only in Dublin that she began to smile again. Soon it’ll be a year since we arrived. The future remains unclear. We believe in victory and hope to inevitably return home. However, we will always remember the warmth and kindness we faced on The Emerald Isle.


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