Bradley Stafford has made the Ukrainian capital his home since 2017 and married a Ukrainian, but they now find themselves near the Polish border trying to flee a raging war on the European continent.
The UN’s High Commissioner on Human Rights estimates that more than 368,000 people have fled Ukraine and Bradley says many tens of thousands more are attempting to. He is currently on a bus near the Polish border and said he is among buses “as far as the eye can see”.
“I’ve lived here for more than four years, Kyiv is my home and to see what is happening there is absolutely heart-breaking. We’re slowly starting to accept that we probably won’t be going back to Kyiv anytime soon,” the Wexford native told RTÉ’s This Week.
His plan is to cross the Polish border with his Ukrainian wife and set up there for a few weeks “to process what has happened”.
He said there are long delays at the border and estimated that some people have been there for three to four days, without crossing into the EU.
“The intention for us would be to return as soon as possible but seeing as that doesn’t entirely look very likely, my Dad, the legend that he is, is driving all the way out here from Ireland to collect us, if that’s the decision we make,” Bradley said.
Bradley said he doesn’t know when he will escape Ukraine, adding that he told a friend yesterday he thought he would “be out by now”. He says despite only being an hour’s drive from the border, he “wouldn’t be surprised” if it’s tomorrow morning before he’s in Poland.
“I don’t think it’s going to be any earlier,” Bradley said.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said many people in Ukraine “did not believe” the war would break out and that the Irish government are “trying to make it as easy as possible” for the Irish citizens and their Ukrainians families to get to Ireland.
Ireland waived the requirement for Ukrainians travelling to Ireland having a visa but this came only after Ukrainian airspace was closed, meaning many Irish people with Ukrainian family or Ukrainians with family in Ireland, have found it difficult to return home.
“There are no planes flying into Ukraine, there’s no ability for us to get into Ukraine but what we can do is encourage people, where it’s safe to do so, to travel to the borders and where it’s not, find shelter,” the minister told the same programme.
It was estimated that 70 Irish citizens were in Ukraine at the time of the invasion and the minister said many Ukrainians with familial connections to Ireland or “business interests” here would likely seek refuge. She said financial assistance will be provided to get these people to Ireland.
The Minister said Ireland’s €10m commitment to aid funding in Ukraine will be increased in the coming weeks.
“It’s part of the overall EU package, which is over €1bn, so it may not seem enough but it’s only a start and we will provide further assistance. Our objective here is to make sure that whatever kind of assistance we can provide that we do provide.
Minister McEntee said that Ireland will close its airspace to Russian aircraft “as soon as possible” but said there was likely to be a “lead-in time” before this can occur. Ms McEntee also said that Minister Coveney will be encouraging other member states to do the same this evening at a meeting in Brussels.