bravery  | 

Irish woman goes on 3,000km rescue mission to Ukraine to save her 99-year-old 'nana'

'I was worried before we got there because there were sirens going off everywhere. I just wanted to get in, get them and get out'

Meath-based Luba Healy's emotional reunion with her 99-year-old nana. Picture by Louise Walsh

Louise Walsh

An elated Meath-based businesswoman has rescued her “precious cargo” – her Ukrainian mother (70) and 99-year-old grandmother – from the war-torn country.

Luba Healy is now on her way home after crossing the Ukraine border with her two beloved relatives.

In an extremely emotional reunion on Monday, Ms Healy said she could now “breathe and sleep again” after finally convincing her family to leave their homeland.

She said her “nana” was extremely tired from the dramatic dash to the border from the town of Haivoron but Ms Healy promised to “look after her like an egg” on their expected arrival back to Trim tomorrow.

Ms Healy made the 3,000km trip with her husband Eugene, 13-year-old son Francis and family friend, Diarmuid Dawson, to Ukraine, where they “exchanged” 40 boxes of supplies for their family.

Luba and Eugene Healy with their son Francis and friend Diarmuid Dawson setting off on their rescue mission. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

They are also bringing home five adult neighbours, a four-year-old girl and three dogs.

The Healys were blessed by a local priest before setting off from Trim last Saturday on the perilous journey in a camper van and SUV.

"We have our precious cargo," said Ms Healy on Monday night, just hours after crossing back from the Ukrainian border en route home.

"My mam and nana had to wait 36 hours for us at a petrol station inside the border and Nana didn't think she would make it any further.

"When they were leaving Haivoron, the (air raid) sirens started going off but instead of doubling back to the shelters, they took a chance and kept going.

"We were held up for over two hours on paperwork regarding the rented camper van and it was chaos at the Ukrainian border.

"I was worried before we got there because there were sirens going off everywhere. I just wanted to get in, get them and get out. I was expecting something bad to happen, especially because the Russians were celebrating Victory Day.

"We had to go into Ukraine because the driver that brought my mam and nan out was eligible to fight and so not allowed to leave the country.

Luba Healy with supplies. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

"He wouldn't take any money from me but was anxious to bring the supplies back in time before the town was closed and shelling began."

Ms Healy added that she was “very surprised” to see a 3km queue of people crossing from Poland back into Ukraine.

"I was thinking, ‘why do people want to go back there?’.”

The reunion between the three generations of women was hugely emotional after two months of constantly phoning her mam since the invasion and not knowing if she'd ever see her again.

In the last few months, Luba’s elderly mother Nina was pushing her own mother Galina in a wheelbarrow to air-raid shelters and carrying her on her back down to basements to safety.

Ms Healy finally persuaded the women to leave their hometown in Haivoron at Easter on the promise that she would drive them back home once the war is over.

At that stage, Nina admitted she was frightened when local graveyards were closed under threat of Russian bombs and was scared of what any Russian forces might put Galina, who is almost 100, through.

"There were a lot of hugs and kisses and tears when I finally saw them again. Nana kept asking to see my other children who are back in Trim. It was so special,” said Ms Healy of their reunion.

"But I couldn't wait to get them into the cars, turn around and get out. I was afraid of what might happen and we had a responsibility to keep our son and friend safe too.

Luba Healy's 70-year-old mum Nina with her grandchildren. Photo: Louise Walsh

"Nana was so tired from the long wait that she was too weak to walk, so Eugene carried her from one vehicle to the next. She then fell asleep in the camper van.

"She doesn't look well but she has had a long journey and an arduous few weeks. Once we get her home, I'll look after her like an egg, and my mam too

"They've already had an Irish meal. Once we reached Poland, I asked a local service station to warm up a number of dinners that the StockHouse Restaurant in Trim sent over with me.

"All the women and children will come back to my house and stay with me until I can find them other accommodation.

"My nan thinks she's coming to Ireland for a few weeks but we know she'll only ever be going home again in spirit, to be buried with my grandfather.

"Nana was (last) outside Haivoron when she was in Crimea as a 28-year-old young woman and has never travelled anywhere else. She hasn't even been down the town in 20 years as she is frail and largely immobile.

"She helped bring arms to the soldiers back in World War II. Her whole life was in Ukraine.

"Now she has left it all behind, probably forever. All she brought with her was one pair of shoes, two pairs of tights, a few dresses and a few scarves – and her stick she got when Grandad died 13 years ago. But she still has her memories and we will make new ones for her in Ireland.

"I keep saying to my mam, ‘can you believe it?’. I have to pinch myself to believe we are back together again.

"I'm driving the long trip back with a smile on my face. I can breathe again and I know I'll finally sleep with no nightmares. But even though I have my family safe, I will never stop trying to help all the others in Ukraine who aren't as lucky as me."

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