For a few precious minutes each day Natalia Menovska breathes a little easier.
Sometimes it’s for less than a minute; just a few snatched words with her father after curfew, as he hides in his bathroom where the light of his phone can’t be seen, at his home in a small town about an hour outside Kiev in war-torn Ukraine.
Father and daughter make contact through Messenger as he is afraid to speak on the phone.
Natalie’s dad is 73: A retired soldier, too old now to fight, he stays behind to support his sons.
Her two brothers, both retired from the army in recent years, are back in service. Her sister-in-laws are also on the ground, one on the border, the other in the medical corps.
From the safe haven of her home in Clonakilty, Natalie feels helpless and afraid for them. She often wakes in the middle of the night and can’t catch her breath.
“Each day I just need to know they are ok. Then I can go to work. I can function,” she says, her voice breaking.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, this has been the reality for so many Ukrainians living outside their homeland. Some have returned to take up arms, others are doing what they can to help from afar.
Natalia moved to Clonakilty 13 years ago and has made a good life here for her family. She works at a local nursing home, her three children attend local schools.
Since the invasion started, she has been doing what she can to help, collecting and sorting donations at her home to send to the Polish Ukrainian border through a group in Waterford and the West Cork Appeal based in Bandon. Anything she collects now goes to the premises of the old library in Bandon, which is being used as a community resource centre for displaced Ukrainians joining our community.
“I can’t believe the support shown by the Irish people,” she says. “So many people here in Clonakilty, Bandon, all over West Cork are helping in any way they can.”
She tries not to watch the news too often and finds it helps to talk to other Ukrainians. “Since this started, I am just crying all the time. You don’t know what you will wake up to each day, you are just wondering all the time if your family are safe. In one day, people lost everything, their hopes, their dreams, everything.”
Natalia feels grateful that so many people from Ukraine are being offered refuge here in Ireland and can experience the same generosity of spirit she was welcomed with.
“I’m just so thankful. People here are so friendly and kind.”
A smile lifts her tears.
“I learned a lot about the weather when I first came here but most importantly, I literally learned how to smile when I came to Ireland.”
She fears too for her friends in Russia, silenced under Putin’s regime. “Everyone is suffering under that man,” says Natalia.
She recalls a recent encounter with a woman in a coffee shop in Cork City. “I admired her coat, she didn’t understand what I was saying and I automatically found myself switching into Russian,” says Natalia. “She asked me where I was from and when I told her Ukraine, she just said, with tears in her eyes, ‘I am Russian and I am so very sorry for what is happening’. We both stood there crying for a long time.
“The Russian people do not want this war either, it is Putin’s war,” says Natalia with passion.
Natalia is offering her services as a translator to any families who are hosting refugees from Ukraine. She can be contacted through her facebook page: natalia.menovski