ANNE Kovner fled her native Ukraine on February 24, as the first of the Russian missile strikes rained down on her homeland.
Fighting back tears, the 32-year-old lawyer sat in the waiting area of the Limerick Ukraine Support Centre in Dominick Street, hoping to get a PPS number along with financial and accommodation assistance while she waits out the war here.
She was “born in the Donetsk region” where local Russian militia chiefs hinted at the possible use of chemical weapons against Ukraine’s citizens, but had been living in Kyiv where Russian forces retreated, leaving mass graves and torture chambers behind them.
“I left behind everything. I took just my laptop and my documents that’s all. I have an apartment in the Donetsk region and a house. Now I don’t know if it is still there,” she added.
She becomes emotional when asked if any of her close family remained behind in Ukraine.
She has lost all connection with her relatives and doesn’t know if they are still alive.
Fleeing Kyiv as Russian troops encircled its outlying towns and villages was as traumatic as it sounds.
“The war had started and I lost my work. As I had no relatives in Kyiv and my friends lived in another region, I had no money to stay there.”
Some friends in Ireland told her to come here to get help and that she would be safe, “so I decided to move here”.
“My journey took five days, it was really difficult and hard for my mental health. I was alone.
“I didn’t expect it but the people traveling on the train and the buses, in the strain stations, in the hostels, everybody helped me. We are now staying in touch and support each other through the internet.”
She has found companionship with fellow Ukraine refugee Ludmyla Zhuk who also waits patiently for assistance in the Limerick Ukraine Support Centre.
The 55-year-old said they “want to return to Ukraine in safety and to remain an independent country and for all our family and relatives to be well”.
“We appreciate the help Ireland and Irish people are giving us. It’s really important for us.”
Justice Minister Helen McEntee, who visited the Limerick centre on Monday, said it was more than a place to assist Ukraine families and individuals with shelter and social welfare.
“The temporary protection letter gives them the reassurance that they are able to stay and access supports”.
“Unfortunately we have had quite a number of young people arriving on their own. I met one young man, who was only 15 years old and had arrived from Ukraine about two week ago.
“They are all being met by TUSLA, whether they come in through Dublin Airport, Rosslare, or Shannon, and if there are any other types of supports or requirements needed, then these are provided there and then,” said Minster McEntee.
She praised the efforts of people in Limerick and Clare for their efforts over the past few weeks and said it was because of the number of refugees arriving in the area that a support centre was necessary.
“We are continuously reviewing the situation and where we can provide this kind of additional support we will. In some instances, our team here are going out to locations where there are large numbers of refugees offering that one-stop-shop support.” she added.
Within minutes of the centre opening last Monday, 60 Ukrainian refugees were seeking assistance followed by another large group who had also fled the Russian invasion.