AN ENNIS FAMILY narrowly avoided war, having planned to arrive in Ukraine on the day of Russia’s large-scale invasion which has been described as the largest conventional warfare operation in Europe since the second World War.

Mariya Nikishanova had tickets booked to return to her native Ukraine to mark the seventieth birthday of her beloved mother with her husband and two children also set to make the trip from Dublin Airport.

While they were in Dublin, they received notification that all flights to Ukraine were cancelled as the world looked on in panic. “To be honest we knew this was coming, it was not much of a surprise, we were thinking of the risks and whether we should go but we hoped that it would not happen. When I woke up to get the flight I saw the news, I don’t really remember the day well. After a few hours, they started to bomb Gostomel which is four or five kilometres from my mother’s house, it was just horror, I never felt like that in my life to be scared of death like that,” Mariya recalled.

An SAP project manager with General Motors in Dooradoyle, Mariya has lived in Ennis for the past five years and currently sits on the Board of Management at Holy Family NS. They are happily settled in Co Clare but are anxious for her mother, Nataliia, sister Alyona and niece Mariya who remain in their family house in Irpin located “just on the war line” which is used by the Russians as the main access point to Kyiv.

She explained, “they are sitting in the basement. For the last two days, they have not left at all because they would be killed on the streets. They were a bit slow and then they couldn’t leave, there was a small window of time to leave but they missed it, my sister is not driving and in this situation they cannot leave”.

Every two hours Mariya contacts them via Viber and Skype, “I’m trying not to call them in the night-time, I keep myself silent because I want them to take rest but I cannot sleep, today I woke up at 02:30, I don’t want to sleep”. She added, “it is great that the network is still up, people in Ukraine are doing an amazing job to keep it up. Without it, it would be a complete nightmare, there’s not much we can do already but at least you can see they are still alive”.

Nataliia had stocked up on supplies to prepare for the planned arrival of Mariya’s family, because of this, they have enough food in the basement to last a week. The reaction of her seventy year old mother has made Mariya very proud. “My sister starts to panic, she has a small daughter who is five years old, she can’t stay in a basement and already she is there for four days. My mother is stable, I was really worried that she could have a heart attack or something, the very first day she was waiting for us, I called her on Thursday morning to tell her we couldn’t come and she was devastated. I’m proud of her, she is better than me, she understands. The basement is underground, she needs to go down the ladder to get there, for a woman of seventy years old it is not easy for her but she is amazing. My sister is younger and has more responsibilities with her daughter but she is fine. I don’t know how I would react, maybe I would be pissed off, I can’t really judge from here, if I was there I could be dead in a second”.

Mariya Nikishanova stands at the Daniel O’Connell Monument in Ennis. Photograph: Natasha Barton

Her father is Russian and is living in Crimea, “he supports fully all this politics. I’m half Russian but what is in your blood is okay but what is in your head is absolutely different, it cannot be the same”.

She points to 2014, the year of the Donbas War and the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation as a time when her view of Russia changed, “before that I was really thinking rations and they were vicious but they are not that dangerous, after 2014 it changed a lot until the situation could be war, people were saying it could happen and they were right”.

Over the weekend, Mariya held demonstrations at the Daniel O’Connell Monument, meeting people from her native country that she never knew existed never mind lived in the same town as her. Looking to the future, she told The Clare Echo of her hope, “It is difficult to separate what I think will happen and what I want to happen. The Ukrainian Army and people are much stronger than anybody in the world thought, of course Putin didn’t expect that and even European countries didn’t expect to see that, this is changing the whole game so I think what will be happening on the good side the Ukrainians will continue to fight and fight successfully, on the bad side because of these failures Russians will start to use tactics which they did in Donbass when they were sitting on the house fighting from there so Ukrainians could not respond”.

“I’m hopeful, I am a positive person, I think there is a possibility now to make sure Russian troops leave not just Ukraine but we can get them out of Donbass and Crimea, there is a chance,” she added.

Her latest trip home may have been derailed but Mariya is adamant she will be returning to Irpin to see her mother, “as soon as it’s possible I will be, as soon as aeroplanes will be flying to Ukraine I will be one of the first on them”.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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