Two Irish students trying to escape the conflict in Ukraine successfully made it to safety in Romanian and Hungary on Wednesday, crossing the border following separate frantic journeys across Ukraine.
Racheal Diyaolu, a 19-year-old medical student from Co Carlow, reached the border of Romania, while another student from Co Waterford, Eniola Oladiti, arrived in Budapest.
Both had been studying medicine in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy, near the Russian border, when Russian troops invaded on February 24th.
Ms Diyaolu confirmed on Wednesday evening that she had crossed the border into Romania, after a three day trip.
In a tweet on Wednesday afternoon, her older sister, Christiana Diyaolu celebrated the moment she heard her sister had made it to the country’s border.
“I could shout it from the hills! They have made it to the border and are making their way through now. I’ve been told not to reveal their exact location yet, until they get to safety. Next step Ireland,” she said.
Ms Diyaolu had been fleeing Ukraine since Monday, in a two-van convoy driven by two Scottish men, who had travelled to Ukraine to help take trapped civilians out of the country after war broke out. The group had experienced delays on the road over the course of Tuesday, which had slowed their progress.
Separately, Ms Oladiti (26) reached the Hungarian capital in the early hours of Wednesday. She had also left Sumy on Monday, with her landlady and her landlady’s boyfriend driving her out of the city.
Her landlady’s boyfriend had only been driving a month, and had never driven outside of Sumy, yet now he was navigating past armed checkpoints and discarded Russian tanks. “They risked their lives for me,” she told The Irish Times.
Driving up to armed groups “you were staring ahead trying to make out whether they were Russian or Ukrainian,” she said. The student had left her home with just a backpack, carrying her phone, laptop, and some food and water.
The pair drove her to the city of Myrhorod, where she was able to board a train across the country to the western city of Lviv.
She stood on the packed train for the duration of the 13 hour journey.
“My leg had gone completely numb from the cold, I didn’t even notice my boot had fallen off,” she said.
In Lviv she took a bus to Chop, which sits on the border with Hungary, and from there she got a lift in a car with a stranger crossing the border to Záhony. “You just trusted anybody,” the student said.
At the border she waited in a queue for 40 minutes in the bitter cold. “I remember shaking with the cold inside me,” she said.
When she cleared the border she was taken to a health centre, where volunteers gave them hot food and tea. In the early hours of Wednesday she got a spot on a train to Budapest, and plans to fly home to Ireland on Friday.
She had been in her third year studying medicine in Sumy, having previously completed a nursing degree in Trinity College Dublin, and worked in the Mater Private Hospital.
In the aftermath of sheltering while bombs fell overhead, and the frantic journey across the country to escape Ukraine, it will “take some time to be okay” mentally, she said.