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Monday 27 March 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Racheal Diyaolu
# Ukraine
'I stay strong for mom': Irish student in Ukraine stays positive with routine and calls home
Carlow native Racheal Diyaolu is sheltering in student accommodation in the city of Sumy.

AN IRISH MEDICAL student stuck in a Ukrainian city 50 kilometres from the Russian border says conversations with family at home keep her calm amid ongoing fighting.

Racheal Diyaolu from Carlow is sheltering in student accommodation in the city of Sumy, while Ukraine’s army battles to prevent Russian forces from capturing the city.

The 19-year-old first year student was enjoying adjusting to her busy study schedule in Ukraine before Putin’s regime ordered its invasion.

Now, life has been stripped back to monitoring the military situation, keeping in communication with family and routine trips to her building’s bunker.

“Our day-to-day life is waking up, hopefully not to a loud bang or anything. This morning we were woken up by a loud bang, meaning we had to go right down to the bunker.

“But, on other mornings we’d wake up and look at the news to see if there’s any updates from Kyiv, or from anywhere around Ukraine, hoping that there hasn’t been any progression in the Russian invasion.

“Then I’d get ready for the day; you just want to keep a routine going because you get bogged down if you don’t get yourself ready, get yourself showered and dressed and stuff.

“And then you kind of just spend the day doing nothing. There’s not much to do, apart from talk to each other. Maybe, if the connection’s good, watch a bit of Netflix.

“The main thing I do throughout the day is stay in contact with my family. Just to let them know that I’m okay.”

Racheal says these conversations steel her to face the extraordinary situation and keep her feeling positive.

“I speak to my mom often and I know each time I speak to her that she’s stressed to the max. The last thing she needs is me being scared or being worried because I just know that I have to stay strong for her.

It’s one thing that I can do is try to regulate myself and stay cool and calm in the situation.

The first year student arrived in Ukraine in November and was appreciating student life in Sumy before the Russian assault began.

She decided to study abroad as uncertainty about what format the Leaving Cert would take meant she didn’t want to risk wasting a year by repeating only for Covid-era grade inflation to deny her a place. 

Racheal hopes to travel home but advice from Ukrainian authorities and Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs says it’s too dangerous at the present time.

“Obviously my main thing is getting home, that’s the one thing I want to do. However, it’s not safe to do so.

“I won’t be travelling to other cities or trying to travel to borders because number one; there’s basically no transport even if I wanted to.

“Number two; to get to the other borders of other countries, we are so far in Eastern Europe that we’d have to go cross country… You never know what you could encounter on the way.

The self-confessed “home bird” says she has moments where she can’t believe what’s unfolding around her.

“It was already hard for me to believe that I was here studying in general. I’m such a home bird I never actually thought I’d leave Ireland.

“Sometimes I’d be like: ‘Oh wow! I’m in Ukraine’. But for me now I’m like: ‘Oh, wow! I’m in Ukraine during a war’. That’s not great [she laughs]. But I try not to think too much about what could happen negatively.

I only try to think about what could happen positively. Like getting out safely and getting home, getting to see my family and my friends.

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