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Column: Maryna Kovalenko

An update from Ukranian journalist Maryna Kovalenko who is now living in Carrigaline

It has been more than three weeks since my arrival in Ireland as a result of the horrendous war in Ukraine that continues to destroy the lives of millions of my countrymen. Although hundreds of miles separate me from my motherland, the solidarity and unity of the Irish people towards Ukrainians makes me feel closer to home.

A manifestation of such solidarity was a fundraising concert of Irish and Ukrainian musicians and performers, I was delighted to attend on March 31st. It was titled “A Night for Ukraine” and held in the Concert Hall, City Hall, Cork. According to concert organizer Chris Horgan, the event was arranged in an unprecedentedly short time — in just four weeks — and was “a result of a mad conversation over a cup of coffee”.

From the very beginning I was struck by the long line of people who were queuing up outside the building before the concert. The hall was completely filled with spectators, among whom were Ukrainians. Of course, Ukrainian flags were visible everywhere: outside the building and inside. Even the stage was symbolically illuminated in yellow and blue. Jimmy Crowley, Nell Ní Chróinín, John Spillane, and other great musicians and artists performed during the event.

In between their performance Cork's Lord Mayor, Cllr Colm Kelleher, made a statement in support of Ukraine. The evening ended with the Ukrainian anthem, which the audience listened to while standing and to which the Ukrainians sang along, not holding back their emotions.

Equally emotional for me was a dinner organized for Ukrainians at Sober Lane in Cork City, which brought together about 50 of my compatriots. I was able to communicate with many people, hear their stories and concerns. Many of them have difficulty finding employment because they do not speak English.

One woman from Kyiv, who arrived with a child and an elderly mother, said that before the war she was an accountant, but in Ireland she would hardly be able to work in the same field. Despite the difficulties, Ukrainians are trying to adapt. Many have already signed up for free English languages classes provided by the Irish government.

Ukrainian Tatyana from the northeastern city of Kharkiv, devastated by Russian air attacks, told me that she arrived in Ireland thanks to her hobby. She practices Capoeira, the Brazilian martial art, and was acquainted with people involved in Capoeira community in Cork. It was they who invited her to come to Ireland and offered shelter. Tatyana described how the Russians were bombing the area where she lived, and how scared she was to move around the city.

The train journey from Kharkiv to western Ukraine took her 27 hours. She showed me a photo from the train she was on. The cars were overcrowded with children and women, so much so that many had to stand all the time. At the moment of airstrikes nearby, according to her, the train would stop and the lights inside would be completely turned off so that the Russians could not notice them and make their target.

While Kharkiv remains one of the key areas of attack for the Russian army, the situation in my hometown of Chernihiv has slightly improved. Last week, against the backdrop of peace talks Russian officials announced a progressive military de-escalation in the Chernihiv and Kiev regions. In other words, by declaring a voluntary retreat, the Russians tried to save face after almost a month of failed attempts to capture Chernihiv.

Meanwhile, air raids on the city continue to this day. Since that announcement, Russian forces have bombed a number of sites that have nothing to do with military infrastructure. The blows were delivered on the buildings of the regional scientific library and the house of the main post office, which are architectural monuments of Chernihiv. A hotel and a market in the center of Chernihiv were also completely destroyed.

Recently, the Russian military barbarously attacked one of the country's best oncology dispensaries, leaving thousands of residents of the region without hope for treatment. In general, according to local authorities, about 70% of buildings in the city are partially or completely destroyed.

In Chernihiv, there are already almost 400 civilians killed and many wounded. The bodies are often buried in mass graves, as the cemeteries are overcrowded (the largest cemetery in the city was shelled the day before). The humanitarian situation remains also critical. It is still almost impossible to evacuate from the city, as almost all the bridges around are destroyed, and the surrounding area is mined. The city remains without a water supply, while gas supplies have partially resumed.

Electricity is switched on for a limited number of hours a day, as many power cables are damaged. Despite this, the Russian retreat gave hope to the inhabitants of the region for the resumption of normal life. My parents confessed to me that they do not see the prospect of ending the war in the near future. At the same time, describing to me how desperately the townspeople are fighting for freedom, they expressed absolute confidence: Ukraine will win.

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