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‘My dream is to return’ says Ukrainian mother who fled to Co Armagh after missile attack near her Kyiv home

When a missile hit just 300 metres from her home near Kyiv in Ukraine, Maryna Opanasenko decided to move with her two children to Northern Ireland.

The young lawyer, mum to Taras (12) and Bohdan (6) is now living with her mother Oksana and stepfather Robert Wilson in Richhill, 3,165 miles from their home.

It has been a far from easy journey particularly as she had to leave her husband Alex, who works in sales, behind. All men between 18 and 60 are required to stay in Ukraine.

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There have been difficulties too with visas but eventually these were resolved.

Oksana and Robert Wilson from Richhill pictured with Oksana's daughter, Maryna and grandsons, Bohdan (6) and Taras (12). INPT15-201.

Maryna, who is 37, said people, neighbours and colleagues,have been so good, kind and helpful to her and her family.

Describing her last few days in Kyiv, Maryna said: “Bombs were falling and airplanes were flying. It is more quiet right now in Kyiv but at the time we left I was scared.

“The first missile when the war began was near my house.

“After that we gathered our belongings and went to my father’s house not far from Kyiv. But the next morning we heard missiles again and we decided to go to the West.”

Ukranian woman, Maryna Opanasenko pictured with her children, Bohdan (6) and Taras (12) at her mother's home in Richhill following their escape from Kyiv. INPT15-200.

It was a long and stressful journey for Maryna and her boys. For seven days they travelled, spending 16 hours in traffic jams and then another 12 hours at the Ukraine border.

“We had to sleep in different places,” she said, adding it was difficult for the children.

“Now they are happy. They have holidays now but they had two weeks of school. I think they are doing very well,” she said.

Maryna revealed it was hard for her mother Oksana who was so worried about them until they came to Northern Ireland.

Oksana Wilson, back, pictured with her daughter, Maryna and grandsons, Bohdan (6) and Taras (12). INPT15-202.

“She couldn’t eat or sleep until we arrived,” she said.

Maryna has been involved with the Ukranian Community NI but since she started working it has been difficult to help them.

“When I have time I try to help newcomers, to get them contacts, answer their questions about here and help them with documents.”

Maryna, who is working at law firm Walker and McDonald in Portadown as well as working part-time with a local picture framer, is looking at her options.

“I will wait and see if the war will be still there and maybe I will think about what to do.

“I am a lawyer in Ukraine but my diploma is not valid here. Ukrainian law is completely different.

“It is my dream to get back to Ukraine because my husband Alex is there, all my life is there.”

Richhill man Robert Wilson said the family has been overwhelmed with all the support they have received in recent weeks.

He said: “The first actual day of the attack there was a missile landed in the street about 250-300 metres from their apartment. They moved to outside Kyiv but the next morning there were still loads of missiles Oksana said they had better move towards us.”

Robert explained that the made their way across Ukraine to Slovakia. From there they flew into Dublin on March 16.

“They had very little with them. They had one holdall and the kids had each a little rucksack,” said Robert.

They have applied to the UK visa centre in Dublin and they have been issued with an Entry Visa for three months but they also received a biomentric residents permit which allows them to stay here for three years and gives them all the rights of a citizen.

The children are both at school now with Bohdan at Hardy Memorial PS in Richhill.

“They have been really superb. He went at first to be introduced to his class and his teacher left him very much at ease. And on his first day at school they had a poster outside welcoming him in Ukrainian.

“Taras, who is attending Clounagh JHS, has excellent English. He has been over here several times since he was three and has even been to the local summer scheme,” he said.

Robert said communications with relatives in Ukraine is fairly good because of Elon Musk’s Starlight so Maryna and her husband have been in touch.

However Oksana’s Ukrainian friend, who lives in Co Armagh, had returned back to her homeland and they were unable to contact her for 15 days when the Russians took over that particular part of the Ukraine.

Robert said they are getting organised with Maryna and the children.

“Hopefully this week she will have a bank account, and the children are at school and already Maryna has two jobs. ”

She is also involved with the Ukrainian Community of NI which has had meetings in Craigavon.

Robert was full of praise for the local community which has helped out with school uniforms, toys etc.

“Even before they actually started attacking we had a lady call with us and left flowers with Oksana with a note to let her know they were thinking of her,” said Robert.

He added that a local embroidery firm had been in touch.

Robert explained. They had left with their heaviest jackets because it was obviously cold when they were travelling in the car for five days.

“The firm were able to give them sweatshirts and jackets and stuff like that which was really really kind.”

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