‘We were all so terrified’: Woman tells of journey home to Cork from Ukraine

Katya Stepaniuk had to escape after travelling to Lutsk for a medical operation for son

Pic of Katya (second from left at front) . Also in the photo are her husband Igor, daughter Victoria and people who helped them in Poland.

Katya Stepaniuk has lived in Cork for 12 years with her husband and two children. Now, the family are sharing their three-bedroom council home with seven more family members from Ukraine who have fled the war.

Two weeks ago, Ms Stepaniuk travelled back to Lutsk in northwestern Ukraine for a medical operation for her son.

A week later, the Russian invasion of her home country began.

“We were all so terrified. We started packing our things and we knew we had to take all of our family members with us. We gathered together my mom, my sister, and her two kids, and my husband’s mom and sister, and her 2-year-old child,” she said.


The journey to the Polish border took the family 14 hours, by which time they had abandoned their belongings.

"When we finally got to Poland, I called my friends who moved from Ireland to Lublin five years ago. I asked them to please help us, and they told us to come to their house," she said.

Ms Stepaniuk and her nine family members remained at their friend’s house in Lublin for six days.

“Sixteen of us were in the house, because my friend has a husband and three kids. We did not intend to stay for so long but when we checked the tickets from Poland to Ireland, the flights were too expensive for us to afford for the entire family,” Ms Stepaniuk said.

Friends advised the family to wait for a few days “to see if the tickets would become cheaper”.

“We found flights from a different part of Poland. We travelled for seven hours to the airport and finally got the flight home,” she said.

“It was very hard and so scary, and it took a long time,” Ms Stepaniuk’s 11-year-old daughter Victoria recalled, but Polish people were “very good” and provided her family with “hot meals,” she said.


When the family arrived home to Bandon in Co Cork, they went inside their house to find food, pillows, duvets and other donations from neighbours and friends in the area.

Recalling the kindness of the people in Bandon, Ms Stepaniuk tries to hold back her tears.

“People are very kind to us. They have given us all of the things we need,” she said.

Ms Stepaniuk’s mother, daughter and sister will sleep in what was previously hers and her husband’s bedroom.

“My son and his cousins will stay in his room, and my husband’s mom, sister and 2-year-old daughter will stay in my daughter’s room. My husband and I are going to be sleeping in the sitting room,” she said.

The youngest children, who are aged 2 and 8, are “confused because they are in a different place and they keep crying.”

“There is not a lot of space, but we are all safe. But I am still crying because my sister and my husband’s sister had to leave their husbands in Ukraine.”

Ms Stepaniuk’s sister, Lyva, said she was “glad” to be in Ireland and “thankful” visas for Ukrainians entering Ireland have been waived.

“But I really hoped I could come here with my husband,” she said, unable to continue the conversation through her tears.

Some 1.5 million refugees have now fled Ukraine in the week since Russia’s invasion began on February 24th, according to the UN’s refugee agency. The Government is expecting as many as 20,000 refugees to come to Ireland.