Ukrainians in Ireland: ‘My wife called me ... I could hear bombs’

Workers in Co Cork meat plant intend returning home to join fight against Russian forces

Ukrainian workers at Stauntons Foods in Timoleague, west Cork, huddled together on Monday afternoon as their shift ended to exchange the latest news from home.

Fourteen of them working at the meat plant are planning to leave soon and return home to fight against the Russians, while others are struggling to get their families out of a war zone.

Three workers, Vlodimir, Serhi and Andriy – they asked not to be identified fully – have family at home. “My wife called me three days ago crying and I could hear the bombs falling,” said Vlodimir.

"She can't physically leave because she is in west Ukraine about 80km from Kyiv and everywhere is dangerous. Russian soldiers now kill everyone; man, woman or child."

He wants to go home to fight, but fears that he will be unable to cross the border.

Since Russian president Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the workers in Stauntons pig factory try and support each other.

Factory management are also working with them to try to get their families to the Republic now that the visa requirement for Ukrainians has been lifted. Up to 100 Ukrainians are working in meat factories countrywide, providing a vital service in a trade struggling to recruit workers. Their absence, if they return to fight, will be keenly felt.

Stauntons have said that supporting workers at this time is "the human thing to do" and the Independent Workers Union said it hoped other factories would show the same compassion.

Medical student

Andriy had just received word that his 14-year-old son has managed to cross the border into Poland.

“It took three days waiting in the line to get to Poland because the line is very long and moves very slowly,” he said. “My older son is 22 years old and a medical student in his final year . . . he has stayed to volunteer in a hospital and help with the wounded.”

Fear is the overriding feeling for the small Ukrainian community in west Cork, who are often dependent on patchy internet signal and messages from their families.

Serhi has been working for Stauntons for 18 months and has a wife and two children are in west Ukraine, near Poland.

“We are all scared but our Ukrainian team in this factory support each other,” said Serhi.

“The war is not just fighting, but an information war . . . Some of our colleagues only just got family out and now we sleep better. My wife works as a volunteer in a hospital and does not want to leave her work, she wants to help. There are refugees from east Ukraine, they’ve seen dead soldiers and there are wounded soldiers . . . I am not going to fight, I do not know how to use a gun but I do know how to make money and send it home to my family and the Ukrainian army. It is a big dream of mine that the fighting will stop,” he added.

All of them worry about what lies ahead. They have heard stories from home that food is becoming increasingly hard to get.

A larger scale war is inevitable, said Vlodimir. "If Putin conquers the Ukraine, he will not stop there. He will go to Poland, Latvia and Estonia. They all understand this . . . Now is the time to fight."