‘I can’t sleep, I can’t eat’: Ukrainians in Ireland fear for relatives back home

Protests take place at Leinster House and outside Russian embassy following invasion

As members of Ireland's Ukrainian community gathered in Dublin to protest just hours after Russia started invading their home country, Taras Boreyko attempted to sum up how he was feeling.

"I can't sleep, I can't eat because I have my friends and family in Ukraine. It's just surreal," he told The Irish Times during a rally outside Leinster House.

Originally from western Ukraine, Boreyko has lived in Dublin for more than six years and met his partner Alice Hopkins here.

“We were hoping to visit Ukraine together but now that’s not possible” he said. “My mom is here and my stepfather is Irish, but most of my family is in Ukraine. My friends who were living in Kyiv have left overnight because the situation is escalating fast.”

The sense he got from those he spoke to back in Ukraine was “one of worry, but everyone is staying strong”.

“We believe in our army. We will fight for our own soil. We are not attacking, we are defending,” he said. “I want people to fight for us or at least for other countries in the West to help us to at least try to cut off Russia from all possible economic support.”

Hopkins said she has been “completely welcomed into the Ukrainian community” since meeting her partner two years ago.

“All I can say is these are gorgeous people...It’s easy for people to disconnect here but at the end of the day, this is about regular people in Ukraine who are suffering,” she said.

‘Just in shock’

Alexander Yujhunchuk woke up on Thursday to a message from his parents saying they were worried because Russia had started to invade.

“My parents, sister, grandma all live in Ukraine. I’m really scared for my family. I’m just in shock,” he said. “Many people didn’t believe this would happen and thought Russia just wanted to weaken our economy but now it’s really worrying. Ukraine is standing together but we are here today because we need support from the rest of the world.”

A separate protest took place on Thursday outside the Russian embassy in Dublin. Mariia Bocheva, originally from Crimea but living in Ireland for two years, said her relatives in Ukraine were "terrified".

"They can't believe this is happening. They didn't believe it would happen until the very last moment. And at least not at this scale," she said. "This is not only a threat and a tragedy for Ukraine but for all of Europe. We need to push back not just as one country, but the whole world needs to be against this."

Among the protesters at the embassy were Russian people living in Ireland who came to show their solidarity with Ukraine, and Conal Campbell, an Irish man who lived in Ukraine for five years. They bore placards saying 'Stand with Ukraine' and 'Putin out of Ukraine'.

Paint tossed

During the protest, red paint was tossed onto a coat of arms at the entrance to the Russian embassy building, and chants of “liars” and “leave Ukraine” were shouted at those leaving the premises in cars.

Later, around 200 people attended a protest organised by the Irish Anti-War Movement outside the Dáil. It heard calls for opposition to both the Russian invasion and Nato militarism, and the defence of Irish military neutrality. The crowd chanted "stop Putin's bloody war, Nato aren't our allies".

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett condemned the Government for its "refusal to criticise Nato's role in escalating military and political tensions in central and eastern Europe and for using the current crisis to further erode Irish military neutrality".

The Trinity Eastern European and Russian societies attended the protest but said they were under the impression it would just be about “solidarity with Ukraine”.

“They talk a lot about neutrality and they’re not taking our side into account. Trinity students have family in Ukraine and are very concerned about their wellbeing,” Eugenia Hanniffy said.

A further protest is planned for Friday morning outside the Russian Embassy.

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