‘We don’t know how bad the fighting will be’

As war rages on in Ukraine following the invasion by Russian troops, Ukrainians who have made Northern Ireland their home are living in fear for their loved ones in their homeland.

Jason Sergiy Andriychuk, who lives in Lisburn with his English-born wife, fears for friends and family who are living through shell fire and destruction being rained down on them by Putin’s troops.

Jason, who works with community organisation STEP in Dungannon, helps people coming from European countries to settle in Northern Ireland. With his parents, sister, brother-in-law and young niece still living near Odessa in Ukraine, he fears what the coming days will hold for the residents of his beloved country.

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“My parents live just south of Odessa, in the south of Ukaraine near the Black Sea,” explained Jason. “They are caretakers at a holiday resort. They live in a wooden chalet about three miles from an ammunition storage site and if that was targeted by the Russians that would be a huge loss and my parents home would be completely destroyed by the blast, which would be immense.”

Jason with his fanily, including his parents who are still in Ukraine

Due to covid restrictions, Jason hasn’t been able to travel home to Ukraine to see his family for over two years. Thankfully, however, lines of communication have remained open during the onslaught by the Russians and he has been able to speak with his parents, who have gone to stay with his sister, brother-in-law and seven-year-old niece in their one bedroom apartment.

“They are still ok,” continued Jason, who adopted the Westernised name when he moved to the UK in 2004. “They have heard the shelling, especially at night. They just stay inside the one bedroom apartment with my sister and her family in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi.

“At the moment communication lines are still open. At one point there were fears it would be cut off because there were temporary outages.”

Jason is also concerned for friends living Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, which has suffered heavy shelling in recent days. “A friend is trapped there on the left bank, where the Russian troops are coming in,” he continued. “Her children were with a childminder across the bridge, which was blown up, and she struggled to get to them. Thankfully she has been reunited with her children but they don’t know what will happen next.”

Despite the terror sweeping through the country, Jason is proud that his fellow Ukrainians have stood up against the might of Putin and is hoping people across the world will continued to protest against his actions.

“I hope the protests pick up,” he said. “Putin needs to know that people are against this.

“I am sure Putin wasn’t going to go on a complete assault. He must have expected some acceptance from the local population and although there may be small factions that might be willing to accept invasion, maybe about 10% or so, the rest are adamant they don’t want to be Russian.

“Russian is my first language, Ukranian is my second language. People I know have friends and family in Russia. We are an intertwined nation, but we know it is a dictatorship in Russia, there is no democracy there. Nobody wants to live under that.”

Around the world, the Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been praised for taking a stance against the Russian invaders and standing strong with his people. “I am very proud of our president,” continued Jason. “I did not expect that from a President. I knew he was quite progressive compared to previous presidents. He is progressive, a westward-looking and freedom-looking person.

“He stayed behind and a lot of morale really came from him. To see a president fighting alongside the people is a big thing.”

As a member of Lisburn City Church, Jason has been overwhelmed by the support from right across the city. “We are trying to do everything we can,” he continued. “I have received personally so much support from everywhere. My church in Lisburn have offered a lot of support.

“We don’t know when the next shelling will start or how bad the fighting will be. A lot of people are fleeing from the shelling and it is causing a humanitarian crisis.”

Churches, community groups, schools, and organisations across Lisburn have started collecting essential items such as clothes and toiletries to send to Ukraine and surrounding countries to help those fleeing from the attacks. Next week, we will have a round up of some of the main collections points in Lisburn and what you can do to help those most in need.

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