‘Russia took everything from us’: Mariupol family bound for Ireland

The Arsentiev family had a happy life before being trapped in city from start of invasion

A family who spent a month in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol will arrive in Ireland as refugees next week.

Eugeniy Arsentiev; his wife, Yevheniia; and their children, Nikita (16) and Kyrill (6), were trapped in the city from the first day of the invasion.

Ireland will be the last stop in a marathon odyssey which took them to via a land corridor to Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea, then to Rostov-on-Don in Russia, Tbilisi-Kutaisi in Georgia and finally to Cosenza in Italy. They arrive into Dublin on Wednesday and will be processed at Citywest.

Mariupol has come to symbolise the full horrors of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The city is devastated in a way no European city has been devastated since the second World War.


Russian president Vladimir Putin claims his troops have conquered the city, a claim that is disputed by the Ukrainian military. What is certain is that Russia has devastated what was once a prosperous, peaceful port city.

Until March 9th, the Arsentiev family lived in a windowless room in their apartment as a place of refuge. From there they spent almost three weeks sheltering in the Mariupol Philharmonic building and they, along with 19 other people walked to Melekine, a village on the coast of the sea of Azov 20km west of the city.

There they were able to rent a room with electricity, water and a kitchen and travel from there.

Happy life

Before the war, the family had a happy middle-class life in Mariupol. Nikita was a national champion of Ukraine in ballroom dancing. Eugeniy, who is a computer programmer and professional poker player, said they went to concerts, the theatre, walked the promenades in the evenings, “enjoyed life and made plans”.

Now it is all gone.

“We feel great emptiness. Russia took everything from us: city, home, friends.”

Eugeniy said the family had chosen Ireland as their final destination because the feedback from refugees about the country had been positive and the locals were “very hospitable”.

"I have always been impressed by Celtic culture and music. I could watch and listen to Riverdance endlessly. And Ireland was the first country to abolish visas and decide to accept Ukrainian citizens who ended up in the war zone. In addition, Ireland is an English-speaking country," he said.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times