‘They miss their friends’: Ukrainian children start school just days after arriving in Ireland

Family begins new life in Co Kildare after offer of accommodation via Facebook

They arrived to Ireland late last Friday night having fled Ukraine amid panic, chaos and blaring sirens.

This week, Enei (8) and Odarka (13) began their first day of school at St Brigid's National School in Ballysax, Co Kildare.

After a gruelling journey from their hometown of Lviv, their mother Oresta Danyliak says she feels overwhelmed with relief at finding a safe haven for her children.

She has been shielding them from most of the news at home and has been trying to put a positive spin on the “big adventure” .

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“They miss their friends and they wonder when they will see them again, but we just feel grateful to everyone who helped to arrange this so quickly,” she says.

“We try to keep positive. We’re staying in contact with our friends and family online.”

Her husband is staying at home to assist the local authority, while her 60 year old mother opted to stay behind in the family’s apartment due to health concerns.

Oresta and her children arrived in Ireland on Friday night after responding to a Facebook post from a Polish mother in Kildare who offered two spare bedrooms in her home.

The mother, who asked not to be identified, said she received a response within minutes of posting her message.

“I didn’t think it through, really - I just wanted to help, so I found the Ukrainians in Ireland Facebook page and left a message.

“When Oresta made contact, I showed her pictures of the house, explained that I also had a daughter... I knew she would just want a safe place to protect her children.”

When word spread over the weekend in the Ballysax area, close to the Curragh, the local community rallied and organised school uniforms, schoolbags, pencil cases and clothes.

St Brigid's principal Esther Reddy quickly confirmed that the school would be delighted to accommodate the two children.

“There was no way we were going to say ‘no’. It seems such a small thing to be able to do,” she says.

“Our main concern is that they feel settled and can relate to the other children. They’re in wonderful classes with wonderful teachers... We can’t imagine what is going through their heads or how worried they are about their father and grandmother. So, we’re going to do absolutely everything to support them.”

Authorities expect anything up to 100,000 Ukrainians may relocate here; about a third are likely to be children.

Minister for Education Norma Foley said on Wednesday that schools in Ireland will meet the challenge "head-on".

“It is out absolute intention to make provision for children and young people who come into our care,” she said.

She said the Ukrainian minister for education informed her that up to 250 schools have been destroyed so far, and more are expected as the war progresses.

Ms Foley said officials were identifying schools with additional capacity and will expand English language supports and other services as needed.

Oresta, meanwhile, still feels dizzy from how her life had been turned upside in the space of a few weeks.

“We never imagined this,” she says. “A few months ago we booked a holiday to Legoland in Denmark. We were looking forward to going camping in the Carpathian mountains... everything is changed. Maybe we can return soon. Now, it is all about protecting our children.”