‘My husband can’t leave Ukraine. It is difficult being apart’ – pregnant woman forced to flee praises Irish people

At 4.30am on February 24 , Anastasiia Zavgorodko awoke to the sound of shelling and shooting in her home city of Kharkiv, in north-east Ukraine. She was six months pregnant with her first child and alone in the apartment.

The building was trembling. I looked out the window and realised I had to finish packing my emergency bag and leave,” said the 32-year-old from her new temporary home, the Royal Hotel in Bray, Co Wicklow.

“It was the most terrifying day of my life. It was so scary. None of us thought that the day would come when we had to leave. We did not want to believe this day would come.”

She rang her husband Yevhenii, who was at work at the nuclear power plant in Enerhodar, about a six-hour drive away. “He couldn’t believe it either. They couldn’t hear the shelling from where he was. He advised me to go to the bathroom, that is the safest place to be if there is bombing. But pretty soon, I realised I wouldn’t be safe for long.

” I knew I had to leave, so I finished packing, I didn’t bring my best things. I thought I would only be gone a short time. I could never have imagined I would end up in Ireland four weeks after I left my home that morning, due to give birth to my baby soon.

“There is a saying: ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’”

Bags in hand, Anastasiia got a lift from her sister-in-law to her own sister’s home, around half an hour away. Her sister, brother-in-law and their three children were still asleep. The bombing had not yet hit their district.

“We decided it was the safest place, they had a garage and basement which was good for shelter.”

As the day progressed, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky made a televised address to the nation, confirming a state of emergency was now in place as Russia had invaded. Within hours, Anastasiia and her sister’s family made the decision to drive to join her husband in Enerhodar.

“It was the safest place to go. Because no one would ever attack a nuclear power plant, we thought. It is the biggest one in Europe. The air raid sirens were going off, we were trembling as we packed up the car.

“We are lucky the car had petrol, because it soon ran out at every station, as did all the money from the ATMs, and the food from the shops. It took 12 hours to drive there, because of the amount of people trying to get out. We got phone calls from our elderly relatives asking us not to leave.

“The older people in particular did not want to leave their homes. It was very difficult to explain to them we had to go. My husband was on the phone too, telling us to hurry, that the Russians were surrounding the city.”

When they eventually arrived in Enerhodar, they were housed in the basement of a school and given mattresses to sleep on. Her husband soon arrived with food and the couple were relieved to be reunited. But soon, the Russians began to surround the city and announced plans to occupy it.

At first, the city resisted. Then, in the early hours of March 4, Anastasiia could not sleep and began to read the news on her phone.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw. The nuclear power plant was under attack. It was the second worst day of my life. They were shooting at it. If it had caused a nuclear explosion, the consequences would have been worse than Chernobyl. We found out by mid-morning that they were firing at an administrative building and eventually the fire crews were allowed to put it out. People had begun to take iodine tablets to protect themselves.”

Within days, Anastasiia and her sister and children decided the safest thing to do was leave. They eventually secured exit through a green corridor, which only women and children were permitted to use

“We left on March 9. The day before was International Woman’s Day and my husband gave me flowers. I couldn’t bring them with me. Saying goodbye to my husband was the hardest thing.”

A number of lengthy journeys followed, before Anastasiia eventually ended up in a small town in Ukraine close to the Romanian border, sleeping on the floor of acquaintances. She and her husband had decided the best place for her to go was Germany.

“That was the plan. Then we heard about how well Ukrainians were being treated in Ireland, including some pregnant women my husband’s friend knew, So we changed the plan completely. I booked a ticket for Dublin and arrived here on March 19.”

Since arriving, alone and knowing no one, Anastasiia said she is grateful for the kindness and compassion of the Irish people. She is due her baby early next month.

“I had everything planned at home, everything was bought and of course my husband was going to be there for the delivery. Now my husband can’t leave Ukraine. It is very difficult, being separated.

“But I am also thankful for my safety and the safety of my unborn child.”

Baby News

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