‘It is like living next to a volcano’: Ukrainians in Ireland express fear and unity

‘If you look at Facebook pages, everybody has flags on their profiles’ ahead of possible Russian invasion

 Dr Titiana Krol pictured in Athlone, Co Westmeath.Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dr Titiana Krol pictured in Athlone, Co Westmeath.Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

During a walk through a cemetery in her home country of Ukraine in 2015, Tatiana Krol noticed a row of graves of young soldiers who had died in the Russian invasion of Donbass in the previous year.

“It was very upsetting because if I lived in Ukraine, who knows what would have happened to my son,” said the Athlone-based secondary school teacher.

The next year she went back to Ukraine for another visit. This time there were three rows of soldiers’ graves. “We saw one couple crying over their son’s grave. They looked so helpless and so tragically unhappy.”

Today Krol and many of the Ukrainian community in Ireland are worried that a potentially imminent invasion of the rest of the country by Russian forces will result in many more such graves.

Russian continues to build up masses of troops and equipment on its Ukrainian border, with many observers believing an full-scale invasion could be days or weeks away.

Krol says she is afraid, as are her parents and sister who remain in Ukraine and her cousin who lives in the territory already occupied by Russia.

“We are all living in fear. It is like living next to a volcano, it’s such an insecurity. I think that sooner or later there must be an eruption.”

The tension has already cost her friends in Ireland. She used to be friendly with Russian people here but after the 2014 invasion they stopped talking. “I cannot feel friendly with people who agreed with Putin and the Kremlin’s politics.”

Michael Baskin, director of the Association of Ukrainians in Ireland, is not sure if there will be an invasion but he thinks that Putin has backed himself into a corner. “If he doesn’t go to war it will mean he loses.”

He says “obviously Ukrainian in Ireland are worried” but that the crisis has also brought about a sense of unity. “If you look at Facebook pages, everybody has flags on their profiles.”

At 1pm on Thursday Baskin will be one of what he hopes will be many Ukrainians gathering for a rally outside Leinster house in solidarity with their home country.

Tension

Andrii Krykavskyi, a tech worker who has been living in Ireland since 2012, is currently on a visit back home in Ukraine. He says there is little panic there and that “life goes on in its more or less normal swing”.

“Tension is up in the air,” he says, “but it has become a business as usual over the last years since 2014.”

Andrii does not believe the crisis will escalate to a full scale invasion. Yet there are signs of a coming storm. Two family members who were badly injured during previous fighting in the east have recently been recalled to military service.

If an invasion does happen “we will have to go and fight, protect the country and our interests,” he says.

Asked if he would take up arms himself, he said he will contribute to the resistance “in the best way as to my skills and abilities.” Following the initial Russian invasion in 2014 he organised awareness campaigns in Dublin to drum up support for Ukraine.

Sergey Tarutin who comes from Russia and has lived in Ireland for many years, does not want to see an invasion.

However he also believes Ukraine, along with Belarus, are naturally a part of Russia. “For me it is kind of the same country. No different to Northern Ireland and Ireland. The same people split by unfortunate circumstances.”

Tarutin, who runs the news website russianireland.com believes Russia needs to focus on building up economic links with Ukraine rather than taking military action. An invasion is unlikely because Russia does not have enough troops on the border, he says.

He is however concerned about the environmental consequences of the planned Russian naval exercises off the south west of Ireland next month. “I want to go to west Cork on holidays and don’t want to have to deal with oil left by Russia or America or anyone.”

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