Irish in Ukraine: ‘I started to hear what sounded like fighter jets’

Irish duo recount experience of Russian invasion and express relief at visas waived for Ireland

"Surreal doesn't do the situation in Ukraine justice," says Irish man Bradley Stafford. The Wexford native has been living in the country since 2017, but it's the only word he can find to describe what is happening there.

After more than four years living in Kyiv, Stafford, his wife and their dog left the capital three weeks ago to stay in western Ukraine amid fears of an imminent Russian invasion.

"My wife is from Ukraine and her mother lives in a small city in the west called Rivne. At the time, people still weren't sure they believed this was going to happen," he says. But the couple decided to go anyway, in the event things escalated.

“When I was packing I thought it would be fine, that I wouldn’t need this book or that jumper and I said I’d leave them there because I’d be back in a few weeks. That has obviously changed now,” he says.


Mr Stafford, who is a freelance photographer, was hoping to be able to return to the city and continue documenting life there.

“When Putin recognised the two occupied zones in the east, that was when we started to realise this probably means war.”

On Wednesday night, the couple were lying in bed watching Friends on Netflix and saw that Ukrainian airspace had been closed.

“At this point I started seeing reports online that it was expected an invasion would kick off in the middle of the night. I started to hear what sounded like fighter jets coming from and going in all directions but I couldn’t hear any explosions, so I thought maybe it might be the Ukrainian air force,” he says.

“Once Putin made his declaration of war it really hit me. I was kind of shook. Then yesterday was a very, very tough day.”

Mr Stafford woke his wife to discuss the possibility of leaving Ukraine.

“But she has elderly grandparents here who wouldn’t be able for a long journey. She won’t want to leave them, and of course I won’t leave my wife either, but I am trying to keep options open in the event of the worst.”

Speaking after his third time sitting in a bunker with his wife, Stafford said he was “just trying to keep as much normality as we can. Everyone was relatively calm in the bunker which surprised me, but the country has gone through so much over the years. So they’re more used to it than an ordinary Joe from Wexford.”

So far, the city Stafford and his family are in is safe.

“As far as I’m aware, nothing has happened here yet but we can’t guarantee that it won’t,” he says.

He is working on getting his family to Ireland now that visas have been waived for Ukrainians entering the country and said it was "good to know that's there".

They also discussed potentially going further west to Lviv, nearer to Poland.

“It’s hard to know if going there now would be wiser,” he says.

Stafford is “constantly in contact” with family back home.

“I’ve been texting my mother telling her everything is okay so far. I can only imagine what mum and dad are going through right now, they’re very keen for us to come home but they understand the complexities. But we have options, our fridge is stocked, we have cash . . . and we know what needs to be done to keep safe if we decide to stay,” he says.

The latest update from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ireland notes the number of registered Irish citizens in Ukraine is 70.

The department advises that “citizens should consider leaving Ukraine if they judge it safe to do so, depending on their location and prevailing circumstances”.

Ukraine exit

Fintan Moloney returned to Dublin from Ukraine last week, where he had been on one of many regular trips to visit friends in Kyiv.

“I got back on Sunday, just before everything took off. When I was there, the atmosphere was very relaxed and nobody thought anything would happen. But a lot of my friends have made tracks to leave now,” he says.

“My best friend left for holidays in the Dominican Republic a couple of weeks ago and is stuck there now.”

Moloney says his friend was unable to get home as all flights to Ukraine are suspended.

He is “glad” Ireland said is waiving visa requirements for Ukrainians arriving here.

“I’ve been in contact with embassies trying to get her safe passage here for the last couple of days,” he says, adding that he is “extremely worried” for friends still in Ukraine.

The department's travel advice at information for neighbouring countries that people may be planning to travel to, or through.

Any Irish citizen requiring emergency consular assistance should contact 01-6131700, which has now been set up at the Department of Foreign Affairs.