horror of war | 

Westmeath-based mum reveals her devastation after her dad was killed in Ukraine war

Athlone-based Ukrainian mum reveals toll the war has taken on her family as she mourns death of her father

Ukrainian woman Katheryna Selve with her family

A grave digger prepares the ground for a funeral at a cemetery in Irpin, Ukraine (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Ukrainian woman Katheryna Selve

Eddie Rowley

IT'S a photograph that Kateryna Selve will forever treasure - the last picture of her beloved father with the grandchildren he adored.

This happy family snap was taken last December in Ukrainian-born Kateryna's adopted home of Athlone, Co. Westmeath.

Illia, had travelled from Kyiv for a holiday to see Kateryna, her husband, Luc, and their children, Aristide (13), Athénais (11) and Ariane-Eugénie (eight).

None of them knew then the hell that was coming for Ukraine and its people…or that just a few months later he would be murdered by the Russian army as he fled for his life back home in Kyiv.

A grave digger prepares the ground for a funeral at a cemetery in Irpin, Ukraine (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Illia (75) died on March 3 last during a battle in the streets.

His wife, Vlasta (66), was then in Ireland on holiday with Kateryna and her family - having arrived at the end of February before Russia unleashed a horrific war on her home country.

Kateryna, who runs a music academy in Athlone, last week put on a brave face as she performed with her three children in a Voices for Peace concert in aid of the Irish Red Cross for Ukraine, staged at a theatre in Moate, Co. Westmeath.

Among the Irish audience was her mum, Vlasta, and a group of 24 young Ukrainian refugees who are currently being accommodated in a Tullamore hotel.

All of them have had their lives ripped apart.

"My mother came for a three-week holiday, now she's staying with us indefinitely," Kateryna told the Sunday World backstage at the show.

"My dad was trying to get a train to escape from Kiev when the war started, but the roads were closed and the bridges, so he had to go on foot to a railway station.

"It was a six-hour walk and when he was nearly there the attacks started.

"He never made it to the railway station. He died on the street.

"We don't know the full circumstances of how he died. He's not even buried because no one can get to the cemetery.

Ukrainian woman Katheryna Selve

"The cars can't pass there. There are no roads now. His body was cremated, but there was no funeral for my dad.

"Although he was 75, my dad had been absolutely full of life. Before he retired he had been working on a large fishing vessel. He was enjoying his retirement."

Kateryna's only sibling, a brother, is still in Kyiv with his wife and children.

"My brother has a strategic job, he's in a power station. He doesn't want to leave. He's living in the power station because he needs to be there all the time.

"There is only one station left in Kyiv and they provide power and electricity for the whole city.

"It's surrounded by Ukrainian tanks to protect it.

"All the people working there can't get out, they're staying there. My brother's wife and two children are living in the family home.

"They are staying in Kyiv because they don't want to leave my brother.

"My mother is very worried about my brother. She is finding it very hard. My mother was still working back in Kyiv. She is a dietician and she worked with children with special needs and she did special individual food menus for them."

Kateryna has been living in Athlone for the last 16 years after her French-born husband, Luc, took up a position as a researcher in chemistry at Almac Sciences in the Westmeath town.

"We love it here," Kateryna says. "We love the country and the lifestyle and there are just the best people."

However, she is devastated at the death and destruction in her native Ukraine. "When Mum calls her neighbours now they tell her who is dead, who is killed.

"It's very sad. I hope that it will stop. Ukraine is a beautiful country, such a developed country, and it's hard to believe what is happening to it now," Kateryna says.

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