LIKE many of the thousands of other Ukrainian nationals that have fled the war-ravaged landscape of their home country , Marie Ann Leskiv, who is a close personal friend of the Polish Consul to Ireland Jerome Mullen, aspires to one day return to her beloved nation to help rebuild and reshape it in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion.
Marie Ann, who since having successfully fled Ukraine alongside thirteen other members of her immediate friends and family and finding safety thanks to the altruistic efforts of both Jerome and his son Justin, is keen to express her optimism that she may one day return to Ukraine to aid in her countries efforts to recuperate after having fought against and hopefully prevailed over such a tyrannical adversary as Vladimir Putin.
“We would like to return to Ukraine as soon as possible. This is because I want to be in the Ukraine to rebuild my country, I want to be there. After leaving Kyiv, we let some friends of ours stay in our flat while it is vacant. What we are hearing from them is that although we would like to return to Ukraine as soon as possible, we should stay in Ireland for a little bit longer. Even though the Russian military has been pushed back to the Eastern border, it is not clear what will happen next. Depending upon the situation we will decide what it is we can do next.”
Marie Ann, who worked as a business data analyst in Kyiv prior to the Russian invasion, also expressed her immense gratitude for the level of hospitality that has been shown to both her and her family by the people of Ireland in the time that she has found refuge here, claiming that although she “always wanted to visit Ireland”, she could never have imagined that it would be “under these circumstances.”
“I never thought that I would visits Ireland under these circumstances. I thought, I planned, and I wanted to visit Ireland to see the countryside and the cities but not like this. Having said that I really like all of the people here. They have been very accommodating and provide us with everything we need.
“Despite the fact that I have left the Ukraine I didn't lose my job and am still working. Whenever the Coronavirus outbreak began, we transitioned to remote working where you can work online from wherever you want. Also, we have been talking with a family who want to host us for some time under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. We have been speaking with them and they are very nice people, they have two small daughters who are the same age as my younger sister. They have told us that they have prepared some bags for us and they have prepared some rooms as well.”
In addition to expressing her optimism in regards the prospect of returning to the Ukraine soon to help her fellow countrymen and women rebuild, Maria Ann also provided a detailed, if not also slightly harrowing account of her journey from Ukraine's capital city to her home city of L'viv in an effort to escape the machinations of Vladmir Putin's war machine.
“We as a family are from the city of L'viv, which is located near the western side of Ukraine, but for the last eight years I have been living and working in Kyiv, the countries capital. I have studied at university there as well.
“I worked as a business product analyst for a software and ICT company in Kyiv, we did consultation work for grocery retailers. On the 24th of February my mother called me earlier in the morning. I was just awake when she informed me that the war started.
“At first, I didn't realise this so I along with my boyfriend turned on the news and saw what was happening. My mother told me that we needed to leave the city and head west towards Lviv. On the first day of the invasion, we tried to leave the city but there was a huge traffic jam. The traffic leaving the city had come to a complete standstill and almost every car wasn't moving. We returned back to the city and my boyfriend told us that he would stay in Kyiv.
“I had a cousin also living in Kyiv and we made contact with him and then we stayed with her at her home. After leaving Kyiv to stay with my cousin we let some friend of ours stay in our flat while it is vacant.
“While we stayed with her and when we did hear the sounds of the Russin artillery bombardment. After having stayed with my cousin for a few days eventually the traffic gave way and we drove to Kyiv. It was like one day I was in Kyiv and the next I was in L'viv.
“The journey from Kyiv to L'viv was long and scary. The route that we took would usually take around five hours by train, or seven or eight hours by car. For us the whole journey took over 24 hours before we could return to my family in L'viv. On this journey I was with my cousin, her son and her friend who was also a girl. So, it was three girls and a child in one car. It was very scary because at night we saw the military and there were checkpoints and block-posts near cities.
“However, the military helped us and provided us with a safe journey. My cousin has a friend whose son is involved in the military and he provided us with information on the optimum route to get us from Kyiv to L'viv. There was one incident where he told us not to go to a particular city, so we didn't and about a half an hour later we heard in the news that the city in question was bombarded. We also made sure to drive through lesser-known routes and through small villages to stay safe.
“When we finally did arrive in L'viv, my mother cried whenever she saw me because she was very worried about me. They were taking shelter in a bomb shelter. When we settled down and had time to decide what to do next, we decided that perhaps the best next step was to head to the border of Ukraine at either Hungary or Slovakia where we had friends that told us that they would provide us with shelter and passage out of Ukraine. The next day we bought train tickets and we travelled to a city along the border with these countries.
“When we travelled to the train station at Lviv to get the train I thought to myself that I had never seen so many people in a train station before in my life. There were trains to Poland and everyone was trying to get onto a train to Poland so witnessing this was very scary. So many People were in L'viv because it was and still is the best place to catch a train from Ukraine to Poland.
“From here we travelled into Poland and from here we were faced with another decision. Should we move abroad or return to Ukraine? Our father stayed behind in Lviv and kept us updated on the situation. He told us that the situation was getting better. When we first came to Lviv and decided to move to the border the war had only been ongoing for two days and everyone was unsure as to what the future would bring. But after one week we spoke with a lot of friends who stayed in Lviv and they told us that it was safe so we decided that perhaps it was best to go back to Lviv.
“When we were about to get the train from back to Lviv, my god mother Ola who is friends with Oksana Mullen, daughter in Law of Jerome Mullen, told us that there was an opportunity for us to travel abroad. Orla told me that Oksana was going to bring her family into the UK and that she wanted us to go with them. So, we made the decision to travel to Ireland.”
Orla concluded her story by reflecting on the fact that although she, alongside most of her immediate relatives, have since found sanctuary in Ireland, her father who is 53 years of age is still in the Ukraine, although he is not fighting on the front lines against the Russian aggressors.
“My father is still in the Ukraine; he is almost 53. However right now he is not needed on the front line in the fight against the Russians because there are a lot of younger troops on the frontline who want to fight. Currently he is also helping our grandparents who had Covid and are ill.”