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stand with ukraine

'People are ready to fight': Anger, fear and defiance as Ukrainians in Ireland protest Russian invasion

A large protest took place outside Leinster House this afternoon.

20220224_132103 A protest in support of Ukraine outside Leinster House. The Journal The Journal

ANGER, FEAR AND defiance were on display as Ukrainians living in Ireland gathered for an emotional protest outside Leinster House this afternoon. 

The news that Russia had invaded their country last night was not a surprise after weeks of warning but there was still shock that this could happen in 21st century Europe. 

And Europe was the key message from those present, that this was a European war that all Europeans should be united in resisting. It was not something that could or should be ignored. 

Lesya Melnychuk has been living in Ireland for over 20 years and has a son who was born here.

She reminds us that her country has been partly occupied by Russia since 2014 and that this morning’s invasion was a realisation of threats that have been made for some time. 

Her family lives in Bila Tserkva, 60km south of Kyiv. 

“This morning at 4am when I woke up from messages from my family, I thought and hoped with all my heart that this would not happen in the current civilized world, I didn’t think it was possible, but it has happened and it’s true,” she tells The Journal

They are they’re not panicking but everybody’s in shock. They got woken up from a bomb, part of my city was bombed this morning in the particular military unit.

She says her family and friends are “trying to unite” and will be “defending themselves as much as they can.”

I’m sending a message to Irish people and I’m sending a message to Europe and to the whole world. We are the shield between Russia and European countries. Today they’ve entered my county and will be entering homes. They will not stop there.

20220224_130147 Lesya Melynchuk holding the Ukrainian flag. The Journal The Journal

Roksana Petnik, a software engineer who has lived in Ireland for seven years, says she hasn’t been sleeping in recent weeks, instead constantly checking Twitter for updates.

Petnik says she managed to fall asleep for an hour last night only to be woken by the news that the bombs had started falling. Some near her family. 

I saw that it happened and then some family called me. I couldn’t reach out to family that lives near the airport for about 30 minutes, I thought I was going to die, really. I was really happy they answered.

Petnik says she came to protest because she was “sick of being silent” and didn’t want to be alone. 

“My family is in Kyiv right now. Near the house where they live a rocket hit, it’s terrifying. I really don’t know what to do. But I don’t want to be alone at home, I want the world to see what is happening.”

Worries about family were of course common among those protesting.

Several thanked the Irish government for its decision to waive visas for Ukrainians to come here, but there was also the knowledge that actually getting here will be difficult. 

20220224_125716 Artem Nedostup and Alex Pishcheiko. The Journal The Journal

Artem Nedostup says his parents live on a farm in southeastern Ukraine, not far from the city of Donetsk. They still have an internet connection and will not be leaving their animals unless they have to. 

“Of course if it’s going to be the fiery hell, they will have to leave. And I’m looking at the very first opportunity to bring them to safety because they’re elderly, but I also have my sister and my brother. They have kids, so it’s very difficult,” he says. 

This morning it started with the air strikes on the major Ukrainian cities, it was absolute dread, I was paralysed. I woke up Alex, my partner and I was like we have to text our parents, we have to check what’s going on.We checked on our parents who had started to prepare shelters for themselves and things like that. After that, it’s just checking the news and speaking with our friends.

Nedostrup speaks passionately about what he calls the “cancer” of Vladimir Putin and argues that stopping Russian expansion is a cause for all Europeans. 

He says he has observed a “united response” from Ireland’s people, government and parties and that this is something he expects “from a civilised country”. 

“We just want to spread the message to the Irish public in the first place and make it crystal clear that this is a full-scale European war, it is already a point of no return for Europe,” he says.

We wanted to draw attention to Russians who live in Ireland too because they have family members in Russia and this is a massive European war. Russia is the invader here and I think most of them do realise that. So I want them to make it clear to their friends and family that maybe they could do demonstrations, whatever activity in Russia so he understands that Russian people do not support the bloodshed that Putin’s clique is organising. 

Nedostup’s message to Russians wasn’t falling on deaf ears. There were members from several communities present at the demonstration, a red and white a Georgian flag could be seen amid Ukraine’s yellow and blue. 

Masha Vasilieva, a Russian who has lived in Ireland for ten years, stood alongside her friend Petnik, a Ukrainian.

Vasilieva says it’s hard for people in the European Union to fully grasp what’s happening. 

“You cannot imagine tomorrow waking up and seeing Belgium is announcing that it’s going to invade a neighbour because it feels like it. However, that’s exactly what’s happening,” she says. 

20220224_131518 Masha Vasilieva and Roskana Petnik. The Journal The Journal

As a Russian living in Ireland who can speak without fear of being arrested, she feels a responsibility to do so.

I think it’s very important because I feel like if you are not expressing your opinion in opposition, it means that you are supporting Putin. Obviously, being in Russia at the moment it’s quite hard for the opposition because everyone that could have done something, they’re already in jail. Today there’ll be more protests in Russia and it will mean a lot of people go to jail.

I feel specifically for people who live abroad, there’s a different structure here, we don’t have anything to be afraid of. So I feel it’s even more important for people like us to go outside and to express their opinion.

 All out attack 

The scale of the Russian attack was a cause of surprise at the protest, with the Russian multi-pronged offensive causing alarm for people with family across the country. 

Some were not admitting defeat, pointing out that Ukraine has a large army and will fight the Russian advance despite the bloodshed. 

“They actually attacked most parts of Ukraine. The Russian army is very strong but the Ukrainian army is very strong. They will fight for Ukrainian lands, fight for the Ukrainian people. I think victory is in Ukrainian hands,” says Valentina Kharchenko.

Andrii Loshkovski says what Ukraine needs is more military aid from Europe. 

“I called everyone I know and there is no panic at all and people are ready to fight,” he says. 

People are ready to protect their lands and kick them back to Russia. If they want to live in 19th century Russia they can live in the 19th century. But we want to build our own country without them.

He adds: “Ukraine is a first tier army and Russia has a first tier army as well, those are really big scale armies with all range of weapons.”

“It’s a large-scale war, it’s going to be a disaster. And don’t think just about Ukraine, this is going to be a disaster for all Europe.”

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