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‘When the first bombs hit we felt the windows shake’

A NUMBER of Nigerian people who were living in Kyiv until a few weeks ago are now being accommodated in the West County Hotel.

On Friday two of them, a 28-year-old female doctor and a male marine biologist of the same age said that they have had a fantastic welcome to the Banner.

While neither wished to be named publicly, both said that the people of Clare have shown a lot of empathy, and done whatever they could to make them comfortable here. 

Both originally went to Ukraine to study, and the woman said that it was possible to receive a very high standard of education there, at a reasonable cost.

“Studying medicine in Ukraine is quite affordable compared to other European countries or in America, the tuition is much cheaper.”

Her friend agreed, “Studying in Ukraine is quite affordable, and in the field of marine engineering they have some of the best universities, they have a very good reputation.”

Both loved Kyiv, saying it offers a lot of opportunities and is very cosmopolitan.

“It’s full of different nationalities, it’s welcoming, calm and safe there,” said the man.

They both lived in the same building in the centre of Kyiv and within hours of war beginning, bombs were exploding on the streets around their home.

The man says that psychologically they are still processing what happened.

“It’s yet to settle in. For now it’s still unreal to us. Imagine you’re asleep at 3am and you hear bombs and alarms going off, you might think its the neighbour’s burglar alarm going off, but it’s war.”

His friend adds, “We felt the impact, when the first bombs hit we felt the windows shake. It was very scary, we lived on the 22nd storey of a 25-storey building and the elevator stopped working.”

She says they immediately focused on getting to safety.

“Once it set in, and it was quite obvious the war had started, we started concentrating on leaving the country, we didn’t know what would happen, if it would get worse.”

In common with many other people, they began a difficult journey to the west of the country, travelling on overcrowded trains which people were desperate to board, before finally getting across and into Poland.

At times the competition for places on trains was intense, says the male refugee.

“It was like a do or die affair, if you didn’t get on you were left behind, people were stamped on, it was terrible.”

He says that some of his Ukrainian friends are showing great bravery in fighting against the Russian onslaught.

“There were opportunities to leave but they don’t want to.”

His friend said that it is a terrifying situation for those left in Kyiv.

“I’m sure they’re terrified, you don’t know what will happen at any time, but some people have just decided to stay and see what will happen.”

When they got to Poland they felt Ireland would be a good further destination, and the protests by fishermen against Russian exercises some months ago partly influenced them.

“We were seeing the news and we saw that Ireland had already opened up their border to Ukrainians as well as third country nationals.

“To me it seemed safe, and I remember at the whole beginning the Irish fishermen were protesting at the Russians. It’s also an English speaking country,” said the male.

While their experiences in the spring of 2022 have been horrific, one bright spot has been arriving in Ennis.

“It’s one of the most welcoming if not the most welcoming places I’ve come across. People really want to help. From what they’ve seen on the news they have a lot of empathy. They try as much as possible to help.”

The female refugee feels the same. “It’s very accommodating, the people are very friendly, it’s a lovely environment, everyone is so friendly.”

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.