'They are scared because anything can happen now': Ukrainian couple in Cork describe fears for their family back home 

The couple say they have not eaten or slept since the unrest began. 
'They are scared because anything can happen now': Ukrainian couple in Cork describe fears for their family back home 

Mykola Koval and Olha Huchenko from Ukraine and living in Co. Cork.

A UKRAINIAN couple living in Cork have described how they have not eaten or slept since the unrest began in Ukraine amid fears for their families.

Mykola Koval and Olha Huchenko, who live in Ringaskiddy with their two children Ciara and Greg, both work as cheesemakers in Carrigaline Farmhouse Cheese.

They expressed grave concern for their immediate family in their native city of Uman located in central Ukraine.

Ms Huchenko’s parents along with her sister, brother-in-law and their children are biding their time in a makeshift bomb shelter.

The shelter — a basement —was initially purchased as a commercial premises. However, the family never anticipated it would be needed for protection.

“On February 24th I was looking at my phone and saw a message from my sister with the words, ‘They have bombed us’ and ‘We’re in the basement’, recalled Ms Huchenko. “That was the moment life stopped for us.”

Now, the 41-year-old contacts her family through phone calls and video chats an average of nine times a day.

Many of the conversations play out through floods of tears, she said.

“They are scared because anything can happen now. They are frightened. They are so so scared,” she said. “Before, my sister and I spoke once a day. Now we speak 10 times a day.”

Mykola Koval and Olha Huchenko from Ukraine and living in Co. Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.
Mykola Koval and Olha Huchenko from Ukraine and living in Co. Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

She praised her family and the Ukrainian people for their courage amid the terrifying ordeal.

“When it’s possible they try to do what they can for their country, like prepare food for the army. My father’s doctor is 71 years old but he’s still going to work every day.”

Mr Koval told of how Ms Huchenko’s family was having to risk their lives just to be able to take a shower.

“The only time they are out of the basement is when they go into the house for a shower or to prepare some food,” he said. “Even then they have to be very careful because you don’t know what’s going to happen. The army is everywhere so you have to be quiet.”

Ms Huchenko shed light on her family’s new way of life.

“It’s a commercial basement so it’s better than the ones you see in pictures and the internet. My family try to get some work done because if you sit and wait you are always thinking about the situation. It’s very hard for me and for them. I am looking at my phone for messages from them all the time.”

'We never expected this to happen'

Mr Koval’s parents managed to escape the country yesterday after fleeing to Poland where they will stay with friends.

“We never expected this to happen,” he said. “I have my mum, my dad, and my brother. He has his kids too. My parents decided to go west and were able to cross the border yesterday for Poland where they have some friends.”

He remains anxious about the situation.

“I sleep three or four hours a day, checking videos and am up from 6am praying that everything is okay,” he said. “We had some plans but any stability in the world is now gone.”

The 41-year-old said he had friends in Russia who are feeling powerless as a result of the situation.

The couple said their children were both very aware of the situation.

“They know everything because social media allows them to get their information so fast,” Mr Koval said. “It’s difficult because the internet shows things that are so brutal. They are OK at the moment even if they are also very aware.”

Taoiseach brands Putin a 'bully and a thug' in Dáil

Yesterday the Taoiseach accused the Russian president of committing war crimes after unleashing an “unprovoked and unjustifiable war” on Ukraine.

Micheál Martin branded Russian President Vladimir Putin a “bully and a thug” in the Dáil.

Mr Martin said Ireland must be “very generous” in helping Ukrainian refugees fleeing the fighting.

He also told the Dáil Putin had “fundamentally altered” the multilateral rules-based order since the end of the Cold War.

“No one in this House or anywhere else should be under any illusions about the seriousness of the situation that Europe and the world faces right now,” he said.

“Vladimir Putin, a bully and a thug, has unleashed an unprovoked and unjustifiable war on the people of Ukraine, committing war crimes in the process.

“As [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy said, most movingly to the European Parliament this morning, every day now in Ukraine is someone’s last day.

“I was very struck by both the contribution he made there and indeed to the European heads of state last Thursday at the EU council.”

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