‘We are through the worst of it’: Irish student on way to border after rescue from Ukrainian city

Racheal Diyaolu is travelling to Moldova in two-van convoy driven by Scottish duo

Racheal Diyaolu, the 19-year-old medical student from Carlow who had been trapped in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy since the war in Ukraine started on February 24th, is on her way to Ukraine's border with Moldova, with the intention of flying from Chisinau back to Ireland.

Asked whether she was safe, Ms Diyaolu said: “Yes, we have gotten through the worst of it.”

What was the worst of it? “Getting the men [the rescuers] into Sumy and then leaving the city,” she replied. Her rescuers had to abort their first attempt to reach the trapped student when their vehicle was attacked on Sunday. The departure from Sumy was “more straightforward”, she said, with only a few Ukrainian checkpoints to go through.

Ms Diyaolu is travelling in a two-van convoy carrying 11 people and driven by two Scottish men. The two travelled to Ukraine on their own initiative to rescue trapped civilians when the war started.


The vans stopped on Monday night to respect an overnight curfew. “It has been a very tiring couple of days, very draining,” Ms Diyaolu said. She had been instructed not to reveal her location, but said she had a comfortable bed to sleep in. We had difficulty hearing one another over the Ukrainian phone network.

Scrapped plan

The group scrapped an earlier plan to travel to Lviv and on to Poland. "Our drivers, Joe and Gary, decided that the Moldovan border was the best way out," Ms Diyaolu said. "We hope to reach there by tomorrow in the evening." She said Moldova might be a more complicated exit point because it is not in the European Union, but it was the quickest option.

Her most frightening moment during the conflict was the first time she went down to a bunker, Ms Diyaolu said. “We didn’t know what to expect. There were quite a few nearby explosions.”

The longest period she spent in the bunker was 4½ hours. The rest of the time she was in her third-floor dormitory room. At one point the water substation was bombed and the water supply was cut off. Ms Diyaolu was moved to another dormitory.

Department advice

The Irish student said she saw no Russians, nor did she see dead or wounded people. She had been in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs who told her to stay put and to update them if anything changed.

Ms Diyaolu said she knew of two other Irish students who were trapped in Sumy, but hadn’t met them.

The sister of another Irish-Nigerian dual national who was studying medicine in Sumy said on Monday night that the young woman was on a train to Lviv, where she would change for another train to Uzhhorod, and would return from there to Ireland via Hungary.

Ms Diyaolu said she wanted to spend time with family and friends when she gets back to Ireland. “I haven’t seen them in such a long time. All my family are in Carlow, and my friends are in Carlow as well.”

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is an Irish Times contributor