‘When you hear explosions, you realise that you’re just a child’: Ukrainian youths tell MacGill of escaping war

Two Ukrainian girls spoke about their experiences of war on the first day of the 42nd MacGill Summer School

“When you hear the explosions, you realise that you’re just a child and you can’t do anything to help,” a Ukrainian teenager told the audience on the opening day of the 42nd MacGill Summer School.

The four-day event at the Highlands Hotel, Co Donegal is dedicated to the war in Ukraine and includes talks on the country’s history, its struggles for EU membership and its relationship with Russia.

On Thursday attendees listened to the stories of Sofia and another teenage girl, Julia. Both are refugees and have received temporary protection in Ireland. Julia is from Mariupol, Donetsk region. She escaped the city with her family at the end of May.

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When Russian soldiers invaded Mariupol, the water and electricity were turned off, she said. The temperature reached -10 degrees and Julia had to wear layers of warm clothes and said she would never take them off. As there was no electricity, her family had to cook food on a fire outside.


Julia began to cry as she spoke of her experiences. She explained that there was a missile near her back yard while people were cooking but fortunately, it didn’t explode, she said.

“I saw people running from artillery fire. Many of them never returned home.

“I don’t know if people can forgive and forget how Russians turned Mariupol into ruins. I’m happy for those who escaped and are safe now,” said Julia.

While in Ireland she feels happy to learn something new every day, she said. She would like to learn the language, meet new people and explore the culture. But still, Julia misses her home, friends and school, and walks around the city and sea, she said.

Sofia is originally from Zhmerynka, Vinnytsya region. When the war started her city was under rocket attacks. She worries about her family and friends who are in Ukraine, especially after a recent rocket attack in the centre of Vinnytsya, where more than 25 people were killed including three children “whose lives were just started”, she said in her speech.

Julia and Sofia are grateful for the support Ireland has provided to them and to all Ukrainians. “Everybody, beginning from the airport, helped us a lot. All I want to say is that you have to appreciate the peace, time with family, and the possibility to mind your own business and never worry for your life,” said Sofia.