“For me, Caitriona is like an angel.” Nina Pohoretska, a young woman forced to flee her home in Kyiv, says Caitriona Twomey has been a great friend and support to her since she arrived in Ireland on St Patrick’s Day, and she has been volunteering at Penny Dinners as a way of saying thanks.
Ms Pohoretska told The Echo she had been alone on the Stenna ferry from Cherbourg to Rosslaire last week “except for my cat” and knew nobody in Ireland when a chance conversation with Penny Dinners volunteer Tomas Kalinauskas introduced her to a new family of Irish friends.
Mr Kalinauskas was returning to Cork at the end of Cork Humanitarian Aid Ireland’s mission to deliver humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian border in Poland, when he introduced himself to Ms Pohoretska.
“Tomas asked me on the ferry if I was okay, and if there was anything he could do to help, and then he introduced me to Caitriona.”
Ms Pohoretska had been travelling across Europe in her car, because she wanted to bring her cat with her and she knew she would face difficulties if she tried to travel by plane with the cat.
“A week is a long time to drive, and we came from Kyiv to Poland, across Germany, Belgium and France and then we travelled on the ferry. It’s a long time to be alone in a car with only a cat for company.”
Her cat is called Miss Eleonora, or Ella to her friends, and she is a former street cat that Ms Pohoretska met “outside the post office” in Kyiv.
Caitriona Twomey told The Echo she believed she and Tomas, and the other volunteers from Cork Penny Dinners and Cork City Missing Persons Search and Recovery who had formed Cork Humanitarian Aid Ireland, had been in the right place at the right time when they met Ms Pohoretska.
“One minute she looked lost and alone, and the next minute she was surrounded by an army! Nina and Ella suddenly had a load of friends in Cork!”
Ms Twomey said she and the other volunteers had been delighted to help Ms Pohoretska get settled in Cork, and she said it was important to let people know that Ukrainian people were getting to Ireland with their pets.
“We waited for ages at Rosslaire as Ella was being checked by the vets, and we were all over the moon when she got through.”
When Ms Pohoretska arrived in Cork, she was extremely worried about her husband, who is defending his country against the Russian invasion, but after a week here, she says she is settled in now, and she feels a lot better, not least because she spoke with her husband on Tuesday and she is relieved he is okay.
“My husband thought I should go to Ireland, because I can speak English, and he thought this would help me to get a job here. He read that Irish people are helping Ukrainian people and making them welcome in Ireland,” she says.
A plasterer by trade, Ms Pohoretska has worked in the building industry for the past 15 years and is hoping to get work in Ireland, where she says she is available for plastering, mechanical, and interior decorating work, and can be contacted through Cork Penny Dinners.
“To me, Ireland is the most beautiful country, with the kindest people,” she says.
“In Germany it was different when I stayed there for two days when I was coming here, and one woman came to me and said ‘Why do you come here? We don’t want to see you here’, but in Ireland people are happy to see you.”