02 Jul 2022

'It's devastating' - Ukranian woman living in Kilkenny vows 'we will never give up our land'


Anna, Slawimir, Alina and Anton

“I see the city I used to live in, beautiful parks and buildings. I recognise streets I used to walk and spend time with friends. Now I see them on fire.”

As Russian troops advanced into the city of Kyiv (on Friday, February 25) a Ukrainian woman who has lived here in Kilkenny for 13 years tried to express the deep upset and worry she is feeling.

Alina Piskaryova lives in Thomastown. She moved there recently having lived in Kilkenny city for many years with her husband and two children.  Alina comes from Zhytomyr, about 120km west of Kyiv. She lived in Kyiv for many years and it’s her second home. Still living there is her mother, her brother, cousins and friends.

They have been ‘hiding’ but now Alina has urged them to move.

In recent weeks Alina feared for her family, as she listened to international warnings of a possible invasion. But her mother, in Kyiv, refused to leave. Nobody believed something like this would actually happen.

ABOVE: Alina with her children and her extended family in Ukraine

On Thursday morning Alina was in touch, by text, with cousins trying to leave Ukraine. They were in Lviv, just 60 kilometres from the Polish border, and the area was being shelled.

Since the military action started Alina has been unable to sleep. She’s been keeping a constant watch on news streams, updates from friends on Facebook and texting family and friends in Ukraine. 

It’s the mid-term school break in Ireland and Alina is on a long-planned holiday with her family in America. She’s trying to keep up a brave face for her children, but at ages 10 and 12 they don’t really understand.

“It’s absolutely devastating.”

Alina’s mother, her brother and his wife and her parents hid in a ‘small, abandoned house’ on Thursday, when the invasion began. But Alina has told them to move. 

“I was saying this two weeks ago but nobody believed me. I asked my mother to come here two weeks ago, but she said no.” Alina’s family thought the eastern part of Ukraine was in danger, Donetsk and Luhansk, but not Kyiv. “I thought ‘what are they going to do there?'’’ Alina said. “I couldn't understand why. Even if they conquer us we will never give up our land. We will fight and die. We are not slaves in our mind, we will fight to the last Ukrainian.”

“We have to keep this at the top of the news. People have to think about it and the people there,” Alina appealed.

There is a small community of Ukrainian people in Kilkenny, but they are linked with others from their homeland living in Ireland via social media and chat apps. Alina said a few men are already talking about going back to Ukraine to fight. “This is how strong we are. We will never give up.”

Others are trying to keep their families safe. Alina spoke to one friend in Ukraine on Thursday whose brother and pregnant wife were in a car on the way to the border. It was the day the woman was due to give birth. 

“The people who lived in Ukraine were absolutely peaceful. We are the biggest country in Europe, in the middle, a very peaceful country,” Alina said. 

Alina’s husband Slawimir Gackowski is Polish and they chose to raise their family in Ireland, even though she had been happy in Ukraine and had never planned to emigrate. Anna (12) and ten year old Anton attend the Model School in Kilkenny City. Anna and Anton go to Ukraine every year with their mother, to keep strong links with her homeland.

“I worry we won’t be able to keep in communication,” Alina said on Friday morning. She is texting people every couple of hours but the chance that the internet and other communication lines might go down is a fear.

Her friends trying to get to the borders are also worried they will run out of petrol and won’t be able to get to the border.

In the city her friends are in shelters with their kids. 

“I’m not sleeping. I’m following everybody on Facebook. I know what’s going on every minute. I’m trying to stay as updated as I can.”

Alina is trying to stay strong. “I can’t fall apart. Hopefully my family will get to Poland and then they will need my support and my money. Hopefully I can bring my mum here.”

She urged the Irish government and people to think ahead and prepare for people to come here and be able to live and work.

Friends and former workmates have offered their support to Alina. She has just started a new job, working in accounts in a company in Castlecomer, but her friends at her former workplace in Inistioge have been texting her, as have her Thomastown neighbours, asking how her family in Ukraine is.

“We will all keep praying. Nobody was thinking it would be the whole country. I was on Facebook and I saw people starting to say ‘I hear the bombs’ from different towns and cities. I thought it was a joke.

“I see the city I used to live in, beautiful parks and buildings. I recognise streets I used to walk and spend time with friends. Now I see them on fire,” Alina told the Kilkenny People.

“It’s a nightmare.”

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