'All you want is that reassurance that they are all okay': Cork family in fear for Ukrainian relatives 

"Money means nothing when you can get shot or bombed on your way to the ATM."
'All you want is that reassurance that they are all okay': Cork family in fear for Ukrainian relatives 

Nicole with her mother Irene in Ukraine during happier times.

A UKRAINE-born Cork activist told of her family's unrelenting fear for loved ones in Kyiv who she said have opted to stay and "fight with their own people."

Nicole Ryan, who grew up in Millstreet, has been involved in raising drug awareness in schools in recent years after losing her brother Alex to the synthetic drug N-Bomb at a party. Her awareness programme in his memory-Alex's Adventure- has seen her speak at dozens of schools about the dangers of drugs.

Picture: Darragh Kane
Picture: Darragh Kane

Nicole said that the uncertainty they felt while Alex's life hung in the balance more than six years ago is similar to what they are going through now. It comes as her mother Irene's sister Jana, uncle Roman and their daughter Anya (16) are forced to live like prisoners in their own home amid the unrest.

Nicole as a baby with her grandmother Lydia and aunt Jana.
Nicole as a baby with her grandmother Lydia and aunt Jana.

“They are living in an apartment block in the middle of Kyiv,” Nicole explained. 

“They tried to get to a bomb shelter but Kyiv was enclosed and that prevented them from leaving. Now, they've opted to stay and fight with their own people. All you can do is respect that because it is admirable. However, if you don't hear from them you think the worst. 

"Only a couple of hours needs to go by before you start wondering whether they are still alive. It's hard for mum because we know what it's like to lose a family member. We are wary of what's going to happen."

She described how they feel powerless to help.

"I haven't felt this uncertain since my brother was in hospital," she said. "We don't know what's going to happen. My mum is just hoping for the best. Things like cash right now are irrelevant. 

"Money means nothing when you can get shot or bombed on your way to the ATM."

Nicole said they can sense the family's fear while talking on the phone.

"My aunt is the only remaining family left on my mum's side. There is only a year between my mum and aunt so they are quite close. There is definitely fear. They hear the bombs and fighting outside. During the first few days, they didn't sleep.” 

The drug addiction counsellor spoke of how the horror came with a sense of deva ju for her mother Irene.

Nicole with her mother Irene in Ukraine during happier times.
Nicole with her mother Irene in Ukraine during happier times.

"Before, Ukraine wasn't well known and was really only associated with Chernobyl. My mum was 13 when it had to be evacuated. She had to go live by the sea because that was the safest place. 

"Mum said she felt a sense of deva ju because her grandfather used to talk about all the horrible things he had seen in the war during Soviet times and now it's all happening again."

Nicole, who spent the first four years of her life in Ukraine, lauded her relatives for their strength and resilience.

"It's the sheer pride of the people that really astounds me. They are civilians laying down and fighting for their own country. I am so removed from it all here. We are trying to gather supplies but that is really all we can do right now."

The 29-year-old and her mother Irene speak with the family regularly.

"All you want is that reassurance that they are all okay. I have no idea what they are doing during those quieter times. I hope that they still find time to tell stories or laugh at jokes or distract themselves in whatever way they can."

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