“In Ukraine, people are in shock. They don’t even know what normal is anymore.”
Thousands of people have found themselves separated from their families and loved ones since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Andriy Babiy is one of them.
Andriy, a Ukrainian-born Irish man, recently married his partner Sofia and moved back to Ukraine to be with her. Just over two weeks ago, he returned to Ireland to get his driver’s license. Nothing could have prepared him for what happened next.
On Thursday 24 February, Russia’s attack on Ukraine began. Andriy explains what happened that morning.
“I wake up, and I see on my phone that [Sofia’s] town was shelled,” he tells Her. “There’s an airstrip in her local town, Brody. During the night, it was attacked and there were three shells that struck that airbase.
“They have like a basement outside of their home so they went there during the night. That day, that Thursday, everything just completely turned on top of its head. After that, everything just picked up and was absolutely crazy.
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“She was saying that the last three days, there weren’t any air sirens, which for 2022 is extremely harrowing to think you’d be grateful for not hearing air sirens and you don’t have to go into a bunker.”
Andriy admits that watching the horrific violence unfold from here in Ireland has been really “rough”.
“In Ukraine, people are in shock. They don’t even know what normal is anymore. Everybody has been displaced, everybody has moved.”
Earlier this week, Andriy travelled to Poland with a plan to meet Sofia as she crossed the Ukrainian border and take her back to Dublin. Over the past few weeks, the borders have been extremely busy as thousands of people rush to escape.
Thankfully, the two were successfully reunited on Friday morning and are now on their way to Dublin, where they will stay for the foreseeable future.
However, Andriy still has other family members in Ukraine who he is worried about. Some of them are medics and have decided to stay in Ukraine in case their skills are needed, rather than making the trip to Poland where they’d be safe. As well as this, the men in his family are not able to leave.
“There was a military state put on Ukraine, all men between 16 and 60 aren’t allowed to leave. There was a moment where my cousin was trying to go to the border with my Granny, they got a bus and they got a ticket. And at the border, the guards literally go on to the bus, they ask you for your passport and they’re like ‘Okay, male, 1997, get off the bus.’
“They take all the males off the bus. Y’know, you see the images of families being torn apart, dads being left behind as the children and the mums all leave.”
Being here in Ireland, Andriy wants to do whatever he can to help his family and everyone in Ukraine.
Hearing the news of the Russian invasion, he told himself he would “go mad” if he didn’t do anything and began to contemplate returning to Ukraine to fight – like so many other young men across the world have done.
“When something like this happens and seeing how everyone stepped up… a huge number of males returned and they’re ready to fight. And when you think about that you’re like, that’s a lot of people. And they made a choice, they’re going to fight.
“They’re not going to fight Russians. No, they’re going to protect the people that are there, to stop all of those that are dying. If you see someone oncoming, you’re there to protect the people behind you rather than kill the person in front of you.
“Had I not been here, had I not gone back to Dublin to do my driving – which is ridiculous – I would’ve been there. But just knowing that being there, you could make a difference, I’m like, if I need to go, I will.”
Now, here in Dublin, Andriy has set up a group called Action4Ukraine along with his two friends, Yuriy Kovalchuk and Daryna Kushnir. Together, they have decided to run an online raffle and private auction to raise vital funds and rally support.
“There is such a greater bit of help that we could do being here, using what we know, what we have and all of the people around us in order to create something like Action4Ukraine.
“It’s an opportunity to do something, something that would be a substantial drop in the ocean of what everybody else is doing.”
The fundraiser takes place both online and in-person at the Regent House in Trinity College Dublin on Friday 11 March at 5.30pm, with all proceeds going to Red Cross Ukraine.