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Lviv to Leitrim: Zlata was a week old when her mother carried her across the Ukrainian border

‘The train was packed, mostly with women and children, and everyone was crying’

One day Zlata Tysymbal will be told that she was a war baby. She will learn that two hours after her birth in a hospital in Brovary, Ukraine, air raid sirens sounded and she and her mother were taken from the ward to an underground bunker with dozens of other women and newborns.

Zlata will hear how a few days after her birth, her father contacted friends in Ireland pleading for refuge for his family after a rocket exploded at a military checkpoint 100m from their home.

“They saw a rocket pass their window. They thought their house would fall like cards,” explained Ivan Tarkovych, a Co Leitrim-based native of Ukraine who has lived in Ireland for 20 years.

He and his wife Diana have managed to get more than two dozen people, including their own mothers, siblings and friends, out of the war-torn country in the last two weeks.


The worst part of their journey was the train from Kyiv to Lviv because it was packed, mostly with women and children, and everyone was crying

Zlata was a week old when her mother Oleksandra (32) held her in her arms as she walked across the border into Slovakia after a gruelling train journey from Kyiv with her sons Svatoslav (2) and Danylo (11). Days later they got a flight from Bratislava to Ireland and arrived in Leitrim about 10 days ago.

Zlata was three weeks old on Saturday and everything in her life so far has been rushed. She was due on March 1st but when the Russians invaded on February 24th, Oleksandra was afraid to wait and so Zlata was born two days into the war, not in a Kyiv maternity hospital as planned, but in her mother’s native Brovary.

As she recounted their journey in their new surroundings, a former nursing home on the banks of the canal in Kilclare, Oleksandra spoke of the impact of the trauma, particularly on her oldest son, and expressed concern for her husband, who she will only say is in the Ukrainian military.

“She knows he is alive,” says Ivan, who acts as an interpreter for many of the Leitrim-based Ukrainians. He explained that for two days Danylo did not speak and often curled up on the floor with his head in his hands, again living his time in a bunker as missiles sounded overhead.

“He did not eat and he was afraid to sleep in case there were explosions,” Ivan said. “The worst part of their journey was the train from Kyiv to Lviv because it was packed, mostly with women and children and everyone was crying. She changed the baby at filling stations and in the bus and on trains. It was very difficult, like world war two with everyone being evacuated.”

The Tysymbal family is one of three who have found a home in Kilclare. All have stories to tell about loved ones left behind and traumas they will never forget.

Oleksandra, Ivan said, did not want to leave her husband, who had to physically push her on to the train at Kyiv station while pleading with her that it was the best chance of keeping her and their children alive.

“When they were getting on the train there were explosions everywhere,” he added.

It took the train nine hours to reach Lviv. Oleksandra, who is breastfeeding her baby, had to depend on the kindness of strangers, including the Ukrainian military at checkpoints, for food for her family.

Patricia Foley, who owns the former nursing home, came to the property to say that uniforms would be arriving over the weekend for the five children, who are due to start at the local Drumcong primary school on Monday morning.

“I was moved by what I saw. And I thought we have this place, why not give it to those who need it,” she said.

Kindness of locals

A week before their arrival a heating system was installed, her son-in-law put in a kitchen and Patricia dropped by to tell Ivan and Diana’s friends that a second washing machine was on the way.

I was so scared [when the war started] that I could not eat for eight days. But when I started to do something to help, I could eat

“Everyone has been very kind,” said Ivan’s brother, Paul, who arrived with their mother Yolana recently.

Paul runs a grocery shop and butcher’s in Ukraine and said he left the country four hours before a law forbidding men aged between 18 and 60 to leave was enacted. “I just left everything,” he said, adding that he had given much of the produce in the shop to the Ukrainian military.

Diana, who set up a gofundme page Leitrim Helps Ukraine to try to help pay the airfares of those fleeing her native country, said she had not seen her mother Olga for five years before she arrived in Ireland.

“She met my children here for the first time,” said Diana. “I was so scared [when the war started] that I could not eat for eight days. But when I started to do something to help, I could eat.”

The Tarkovychs plan to keep fundraising to help others get out, but stress that many recently arrived Ukrainians are already wondering when they can return.

“The door here was open for two days with people arriving with cakes and food and flowers,” said Ivan, who said the generosity of local people has been a comfort to those displaced by the war.

“They want to go back when the war ends. If they still have place to live in they will go back quickly. They all say they do not want to be a burden and if they can, they will get work.”

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland