From Galway to Ukraine: Watching an invasion from 3,000km away

A few days ago, Daria Wallace called her mother who lives in Smila, Ukraine, to ask her about her day, both of them with the growing thoughts of a Russian invasion in the back of their minds.

“I feel guilty because I am safe here and they could be attacked every day. An invasion is actually happening, it’s really happening.”

On the morning of 24 February, Russia began their invasion of Ukraine. During this invasion, it was revealed that Daria’s town, Smila, was attacked.

Daria was born in Ukraine, with her family being half Russian and half Ukrainian. Her grandmother was from Siberia, and while her mother’s nationality is Russian, she spent the majority of her life in Ukraine.

Last year, she married an Irishman. After being together for six years, they made the choice to move to Ireland, settling in Clifden. Daria didn’t want to leave Ukraine. She loved the history she had there and had a strong connection to her country.

“I didn’t want to leave Ukraine. The mentality in Ireland is different, not bad or good but different. but it was easy to choose to move to Ireland. It is only four hours away from Ukraine by plane and I knew that it would be easier for my husband to move here.”

The relationship between Ukraine and Russia is tumultuous and lengthy. In August 1991, Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union would eventually collapse later that year. From then on, the relationship between the two countries would grow, twist, and deteriorate.

“My family is a Russian speaking family. I read more Russian books than I read Ukrainian books. My child speaks Russian, Ukrainian, and English.”

“Of course, it is expected to know your own language, but my brother went to a Russian speaking school, I chose to go to a Ukrainian school. It was never a problem to know another language. There was no conflict. Never ever.”

In 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, a peninsula in southeast Ukraine that borders the Black Sea. Through this annexation, two separatist regions in Ukraine, Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic broke off from the country and attempted to establish their own independence.

“What’s happening now is very similar to what happened in Northern Ireland. It’s almost exactly the same. We are all Ukrainians. This part of Ukraine is the same as me or my neighbor.”

“Russia said that they were coming to protect Russian speaking people in 2014. They said that the Russian speaking people were being bullied in Ukraine, but it was never a problem.”

“Our ex-president signed papers to move Ukraine more towards Russia, but the people didn’t want that. We wanted to be our country and build our own country. We want to be a wealthy country. We want to be closer to Europe, we want to be more western in our way of thinking. We want to be independent, not pro-Russia, not pro-Europe, but pro-Ukraine, strong and independent.”

“My family and I were far away from all of the fighting that was happening, but still I had terrible anxiety and I was so terrified of anything happening.”

Last year, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, expressed interest in the country joining NATO. Russian president, Vladimir Putin, sought to prevent this event from ever happening, citing national security as the main concern.

For the past month, Russia has been intimidating Ukraine and threatening an invasion of the country to promote “independence”. Russia also views Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, as the birthplace of Russia.

Around 100,000 to 190,000 Russian troops are placed around the Ukrainian border, in what Russia claims is a military exercise. Ukraine, the United States, and the United Kingdom have all spoken out against these exercises taking place.

“Ukrainians, I think, is taking it day by day. There is good and bad to everything. The world is finding out where and what Ukraine is. People asked me six years ago where I come from and I say Ukraine and they say ‘Oh, that’s part of Russia’. People know now.”

However, Daria is still nervous about her parent’s and her family’s safety, even though they have no intention of leaving their home behind.

“Every week, I have been looking for flights, because if something were to start, I would come back straight away. There is no way I would be able to live here, knowing that something is happening back there.”

“I have one thousand scenarios running through my head, to push them, or to shout at them to get them to go with me. Maybe they should move closer to the Polish border, but I don’t know. I don’t know what is going to happen or when it is going to happen.”

As troops continued to arrive along the border and the invasion started to take shape, many countries offered their support to Ukraine and criticized Russia’s choices.

Ireland will be sending €10 million to help support Ukraine and are waiving visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens who have relatives living in Ireland.

The European Union has also been issuing sanctions against Russia, while Ukraine is currently going through the application process to join the EU.

“The support from Irish people has been huge, from everybody.”

Even while Daria and her family, both in Ireland and in Ukraine, are taking everything day by day, she still remembers the conflict in 2014 and young men in uniform riding through her town in a train.

“My town is small, but it has a long railway station, and in 2014, you could see railway car after railway car of young men heading to Crimea to fight against Russia. It rips your heart into pieces because they are so young.”

Even with Daria’s experience of the past 2014 invasion, and the current one she says that diplomacy and peace talks are the only way to stop Russia from moving any further.

“The more troops any country sends to the border, the more troops Russia will send to the border. Diplomatic conversation and economic sanctions are one of the only things that will stop what is happening.”

“Physical force will not help. Russia is a big scary monster. They aren’t scared of war. I only hope that with the economic sanctions from all of the countries that it will start to cool down.”

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