A number of Irish citizens in Ukraine have decided to ignore the order from the Department of Foreign Affairs to leave, while one has said he is willing to fight too if there is an invasion.
Paul Niland (49), originally from Dublin, has been based in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv for 19 years, where he runs the country’s suicide prevention support line.
Mr Niland was one of about 50 Irish people in Ukraine who received an email on Saturday from the Irish Ambassador to Ukraine, Thérèse Healy, advising them to leave.
The message said “leave as soon as you can” – with that phrase underlined in the email.
Despite this advice, Mr Niland plans to stay, come what may. He does not have family in Ukraine and his partner is in Paris at the moment.
“I am not leaving. This is my home. I am very invested in this country. I like many aspects of this country. We are in the process of changing things. There is a dynamic here,” he explained.
Mr Niland has decided to join up with his local territorial defence battalions in Kyiv, which are made up of civilians who are prepared to attend military training courses in order to be a part of the resistance should their localities come under Russian occupation.
“Since the last revolution , with the anti-corruption reforms we have had, the Orange Revolution , there has been a cementing of the democratic process in Ukraine.
“They are very important events in the history of this country. I witnessed both of those revolutions. I participated in both,” he said.
Mr Niland said many colleagues on the suicide helpline were veterans who had served in the war in the Donbass.
“They have fought and they will fight. Many people are not afraid to fight and I will fight,” he said.
“I got a bulletproof vest yesterday and military goggles. I found out where I am going to sign up. I will be putting my name on the list.”
Mr Niland said the atmosphere in Kyiv was calm. “We have things to do. Unless and until something actually happens, we will simply go about our business. We will cross that bridge when we come to it if there is a war,” he said.
The Irish Ambassador advised those with Ukrainian partners or children to travel out via a Schengen country where Ukrainians can arrive visa-free. She recommended Prague and Warsaw as two possible ports of entry.
“You should be prepared to factor in some days in such a location while a visa application is being examined by the Department of Justice,” she added.
Another Irish citizen in Ukraine who is planning to stay is Louth-born businessman Brendan Murphy. He does not believe the Russians will invade, but, even if they did, he says he cannot afford to spend an indeterminate amount of time in a third country waiting for visas.
He stressed he will not leave without his Ukrainian wife Marian, her daughter Christina and Christina’s three-year-old child. A major consideration is his mother-in-law, who is 80 and just out of hospital.
He is writing to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee stating that the current visa arrangements for Ukrainians are “neither fair, welcoming, nor pleasant, with many complaints”, and that the Republic is the only EU country that does not allow visa-free access for Ukrainians.
He called on the Minister to introduce a 90-day visa-free arrangement for those who wish to flee Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion.
Mr Murphy said he is not minded to flee in any case. “I’m not a hero, the reality is that I would have to leave my wife and family here and her [his wife’s] elderly mother. That’s not going to happen,” he said.
Atmosphere of calm
Mr Murphy also said the atmosphere was calm in the capital. People are going to work as normal and the shops are full. “You have to live. You have to do the ordinary things. At the same time people are very aware of what is happening.”
He believes Russia will not invade, citing reports that generals have told Russian president Vladimir Putin that it would be more trouble than it is worth.
He predicts that Ukrainians will fight if Russia does invade and does not believe the invaders will get to Kyiv.
“Every Ukrainian will fight. The Russians are not coming for a good reason. They are coming to do terrible things. It is unthinkable what it is intended,” he said.
“Be in no doubt there is a lot of weaponry coming into Ukraine.”