Awaiting contact from family in Ukraine: ‘I have no idea if they are alive or not’

Tetiana Fitzpatrick found safety in Dublin but is worried for her father and grandfather

Since arriving in Ireland from Ukraine, Tetiana Fitzpatrick has been "surrounded by love and care," but she is "unable to live a normal life" and is constantly on her phone, awaiting news from her family in Mariupol, whom she has not heard from in two weeks.

“It is tearing my heart apart. I have no idea if they are alive or not,” the 34-year-old says of her father Volodymr (63) and grandfather Alexander (89).

The last call Ms Fitzpatrick received from her relatives was on the February 27th, three days after Russia invaded Ukraine.

By then Ms Fitzpatrick, who has been married to an Irish man since 2014, had already fled Ukraine with her six-month-old baby boy Stefan, her mother and her dog.

Ms Fitzpatrick is from Mariupol but has lived in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, for several years.

"My husband works in Georgia at the moment, so I lived there with my mom and my baby. We had a very lovely and comfortable life there," she said.

But on the morning of the February 24th, the family woke to the sound of shelling.

“We didn’t know what was happening but we knew something was obviously wrong. My first instinct was to go get some food from the supermarket for my baby, and the streets were already more crowded than I’ve ever seen them,” she said.

“People were already carrying their luggage and there was huge traffic on the road. The supermarket was full of people panicking and buying things. I was under such stress and I couldn’t process what I should do.”

All my thoughts were about keeping my baby safe. So on February 25th we decided we needed to leave

Ms Fitzpatrick called her husband to make a plan to flee Ukraine.

“At that time, it seemed like the right decision would be to stay and see what happens, because we were terrified to be on the roads with bad traffic in case of shelling,” she said.

“But I realised I could not sleep or eat because of the fear. We didn’t have a proper shelter nearby. All my thoughts were about keeping my baby safe. So on the 25th we decided we needed to leave.”

Ms Fitzpatrick packed a bag of baby food and toys.

“I didn’t take anything for myself. We had 30 minutes to get ready. Some friends took me, my mom, my baby and my dog with them in the car. We left Kyiv under shelling. It was horrifying and a very stressful journey,” she recalled.

It took the group 28 hours to reach the Slovakian border, a journey that in normal circumstances would take approximately 12 hours.

“There was no fuel available so we were really lucky that my friend had enough. We got over the border a bit quicker because we had a small baby, and my husband met us there.”

A few days later, Ms Fitzpatrick made her way to Ireland, where she is staying with her parents-in-law in Dublin.

Her mother went on to Poland to stay with friends, due to difficulty finding transport for their dog.

“She is safe. But I still have family in Mariupol. It is breaking my heart,” she said, fighting back tears.

An overwhelming feeling of powerlessness has engulfed Ms Fitzpatrick for the two weeks since she arrived in Ireland.

We are ethnically Russian and have a lot of relatives in Russia but we chose to stay in Ukraine. That is our choice

She is following alerts on an app, Telegram, where she came across photos of the supermarket outside her grandfather’s house, completely burned down.

Alexander was born in Russia during the country’s great famine, and lived through the second World War there, before moving to Ukraine in the 1960s to work in a factory.

“We are ethnically Russian and have a lot of relatives in Russia but we chose to stay in Ukraine. That is our choice. But my grandfather always thought of the Russians as his brothers,” she said.

Now she thinks of him “on his own, if he is alive, in a cold apartment without electricity, while his city is destroyed by people he considered brothers. I hate to think of how hard it must be for him.”

“The city has been destroyed. The university I went to has been burned down, churches and hospitals have burned down. The Russians have no shame, and they have no mercy.”

“I am just praying every day for some information about my family, and that they will be evacuated.”