Flowers

They moved into their dream home https://www.independent.ie/with a garden full of flowers. Then Russia invaded and they had to leave it all behind

Life https://www.independent.ie/was good for the Kozakovs. Elena Kozakova https://www.independent.ie/worked as a state lawyer. Her husband her, Serhiy, is a civil servant. Their eldest son, Ivan, (16), https://www.independent.ie/was boarding at a military lyceum, their youngest his, Timotiy, (14), liked to help his mother at home.

hey had an apartment in Kyiv and last November, they bought https://www.independent.ie/what Elena calls their “dream house” in a village of Horenychi in the countryside outside Kyiv. It had a large garden, https://www.independent.ie/was surrounded by forests and a lake nearby and had a kitchen that https://www.independent.ie/was “every mother’s dream kitchen”, she said.

She had her own private room to retreat to. They had two cars in the driveway. After 20 years together, Elena and her husband her had https://www.independent.ie/worked hard to achieve their dreams.

On February 25, their rural idyll https://www.independent.ie/was shattered https://www.independent.ie/when on the second day of the invasion, Russian forces shelled an airfield on the outskirts of the town.

“Our nearest neighborhood https://www.independent.ie/was bombed and several houses,” said Elena.

For the next two https://www.independent.ie/weeks, fighting raged around the village as Russian forces fought for control of a strategic road on the outskirts of town.

Their neighbors https://www.independent.ie/were among the civilians https://www.independent.ie/who died. Elena said the bodies of dead civilians https://www.independent.ie/were transported out of the village across one of the few bridges that remained intact.

Ivan https://www.independent.ie/was in his bedroom upstairs https://www.independent.ie/when the shells first hit.

He https://www.independent.ie/whistled the sounds of incoming missiles overhead followed by loud explosions, and how terrifying it https://www.independent.ie/was, particularly on that first day.

“We https://www.independent.ie/went down to the basement, https://www.independent.ie/waiting until the sound stops. Then after https://www.independent.ie/we go up, and everybody cannot understand https://www.independent.ie/what has happened. We are going on the street to see https://www.independent.ie/what happened and https://www.independent.ie/we see some houses that https://www.independent.ie/were destroyed already, “he said. “It https://www.independent.ie/was really scary.”

The family spent two https://www.independent.ie/weeks living in daily terror.

“The most awful thing is that Russians appear suddenly at night, and you even don’t have time to hide in the basement,” said Elena. They stuck to a strict timetable, turning off the lights at 7pm, sleeping in their clothes, ready to run at a moment’s notice. The shelling cut the electricity and the https://www.independent.ie/water supply. Shops closed up.

“It https://www.independent.ie/was a big problem to get some https://www.independent.ie/water and food,” said Ivan. For days they survived on vegetables and tins of food that https://www.independent.ie/were stored in the basement, eating mostly potatoes and soup. They https://www.independent.ie/would go out by day to the lake, to take https://www.independent.ie/water https://www.independent.ie/which they tried to sift and purify in their cellars. “We had to drink such https://www.independent.ie/water,” said Elena.

The shelling continued right up until the time they left more than a https://www.independent.ie/week ago. There https://www.independent.ie/was one route out and the family decided to take their chances. They took the last remaining bridge out of town.

“A couple of hours after https://www.independent.ie/we left the village, Russians invaded it,” said Ivan.

At 16, Ivan is two years from the age at https://www.independent.ie/which Ukrainian men must take up arms to defend their country. He https://www.independent.ie/was due to complete his final exams this year and go to university in the autumn, https://www.independent.ie/where he planned to study English, maths and history.

“I am not really scared because I know https://www.independent.ie/what to do in situations like this. I know how to behave https://www.independent.ie/with https://www.independent.ie/weapons. I know how to protect myself, how to protect my friends and family,” he said.

He is devastated he cannot complete his exams. “Now it is a big problem… I don’t know https://www.independent.ie/what to do right now https://www.independent.ie/with that,” he said.

Elena’s husband heard about Safe Harbor from Ukraine from a colleague. John Dennehy, a tech entrepreneur, and a group of volunteers organized a bus to bring Ukrainian https://www.independent.ie/women and children in need of shelter from the Polish border to Cork city. The family had no prior connection https://www.independent.ie/with Ireland but seized the opportunity to bring the boys to safety. Elena’s husband stayed behind.

Last https://www.independent.ie/weekend in Rzesow, Poland, the night before the bus https://www.independent.ie/was to depart on the long-haul journey to Cork, Elena and her sons considered their uncertain future.

Ireland https://www.independent.ie/was a foreign country to them. But Elena knew “a little history” and the difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Ivan had heard about the pubs, but he had never heard of Bono. “But I https://www.independent.ie/will google him, he said. “And I https://www.independent.ie/will dance if necessary,” said Elena.

The family’s shock at the cruel and sudden uprooting caused by a https://www.independent.ie/war few believed Putin https://www.independent.ie/would actually embark upon is very evident.

“I cannot recognize https://www.independent.ie/what happened. I think that https://www.independent.ie/will come in our consciousness later,” said Elena.

“We lost everything… .The most awful part of it for me https://www.independent.ie/was parting https://www.independent.ie/with my husband. He https://www.independent.ie/was like a strong https://www.independent.ie/wall for me, and now https://www.independent.ie/we are alone here. For me, it’s the most difficult.”

What she most hopes for in Ireland is that her sons https://www.independent.ie/will continue their education.

“This is the important thing for me. And if he is able to stay in Ireland https://www.independent.ie/without me, I https://www.independent.ie/will return to Ukraine. I https://www.independent.ie/want to be in Ukraine https://www.independent.ie/with my husband and to rebuild my state after the https://www.independent.ie/war.”

Last Monday morning, Elena and her sons stepped off the Safe Harbor for Ukraine bus in Cork https://www.independent.ie/with about 30 other https://www.independent.ie/women and children and one grandfather, to a joyous reception and a support network of volunteers. Safe Harbor organized accommodation for them in a hotel. This https://www.independent.ie/week the Kozakovs https://www.independent.ie/will move in https://www.independent.ie/with a host family in Cork.

Elena has started English classes. Ivan has already https://www.independent.ie/won a scholarship https://www.independent.ie/with Zartis, a tech company founded by John Dennehy, for an online Digital Marketing diploma https://www.independent .ie/with the Digital Marketing Institute. For a boy https://www.independent.ie/whose plans to go to university have been so cruelly disrupted by https://www.independent.ie/war, the six-month course is a lifeline.

“It is beautiful. It is a good start,” said Elena, speaking from her hotel this https://www.independent.ie/weekend.

When they crossed the border from their homeland, the Kozakovs vowed not to look behind.

“You understand that you have to go ahead, and you don’t look back. That is how it is now,” she said.

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