Ukrainian childhood friends say ‘it’s hard to be starting from zero’
Sergii Burbas, Stephen Salmon (Executive Director, Peter Cahill Engineering Ltd) and Andrii Fokin at work on Wednesday morning Photo by Maurice Garvey

Ukrainian childhood friends say ‘it’s hard to be starting from zero’

SOON after Russian troops landed in nearby Crimea, childhood friends Sergii Burbas and Andrii Fokin, made the decision to get their families out of harms way.

From the southern city of Kherson, they made off on a car convoy westwards with their wives, children (Sergii has a 14-year-old daughter – Andrii a 16-year-old son), one mother-in-law, and a pet dog, ultimately landing in Dublin after an eight day journey by car and ferry.

“From February 24, we see the helicopters and the explosions, people say they destroyed villages and towns and Russia is going to our city,” said Andrii.

Kherson was overtaken by Russian troops in early March.

A stopover in Carpathians allowed the families a moment of respite, but it also brought home the reality of the situation they were in.

On getting out of Kherson, Sergii said they were only thinking a few days ahead, and in Carpathians, they had but “one shirt, one jumper”.

“We take the money we had in our house, but our property stay in Kherson and the money we had in property,” he said.

It was a life to leave behind. Sergii (39), ran a small building business and an interior decorative plastering business, while Andrii (40), was a Deputy General Director of a large confectionary factory.

“To my employees I have money for February and March, but money all goes out nothing comes in. We can’t work in an occupied city,” said Sergii.

Andrii: “At any moment Russia can take possession of any property in Kherson.”

“My friend called me and told me they took his country house near Kherson,” said Sergii.

“In 2014, people also fled their houses. History is repeating. This situation is the same in 1920 with Ukraine and Russia.”

Upon arriving in Ireland, they found refuge in the Travel Lodge, Castleknock. Circumstances improved when they started work with Ballymount company Peter Cahill Engineering, on March 21, and by all accounts, a welcome addition to the business.

Stephen Salmon, Executive Director, Peter Cahill Engineering Ltd said: “The two lads Sergii and Andrii have adapted extremely well at PCE Ltd, and are very hard working employees. When Sergii and Andrii arrived in Ireland, they had no bank accounts or work gear and we have helped the lads set these up.

“They have come from a country where they had friends and family. To arrive in Ireland where they don’t have any friends or close family here, we provide our ongoing support to them and their families.”

What the future holds for their hometown is unclear, and for Andrii “If Kherson is occupied by Russia, we no go back. Hard to be starting from zero.”

Sergii says their children are going to a good school in Castleknock Community College and they want them to go to college here in Ireland, maybe even Trinity.

Keeping up to date with events back home, they are in contact with friends, checking local news channels, the app Telegram, while also checking what Russian sources are saying.

“Telegram is telling the truth because it is the same as what our friends say and they know the situation,” said Sergii.

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