Northern Ireland

Ukrainian grandparents in Portadown who lived through Second World War face 90th birthdays as refugees

Yaroslava and Mykola Smal talk to the Irish News.Picture by Hugh Russell.
Yaroslava and Mykola Smal talk to the Irish News.Picture by Hugh Russell. Yaroslava and Mykola Smal talk to the Irish News.Picture by Hugh Russell.

IN Portadown, a Ukrainian couple who experienced the Second World War as children have found themselves approaching their 90th birthdays as refugees.

Yaroslava Smal and her husband Mykola Smal, both aged 89, travelled to Ireland in April last year from their village farm in western Ukraine near Lviv.

Both lost family members in the Second World War, with Mykola also losing an eye, and never believed they would witness another major conflict.

Their daughter Hanna Tymchyshyn (58) and grandson Roman Tymchyshyn (32), have lived in Northern Ireland for over ten years and are now caring for them in Portadown.

Last year, Roman travelled to Ukraine to bring his grandparents to safety using a black taxi cab as well as helping others.

Several cars outside their house bear blue and yellow stickers in support of the Ukraine armed forces, with Roman working to repair and transport them for use as makeshift ambulances and supply vehicles.

A woman and her six children were driven from Lviv to the Polish border crossing on March 9, by Roman Tymchyshyn. Alongside them in the photograph is a man from Yemen who has been living in Ukraine for many years after fleeing conflict in his home country. He is now seeking refuge for a second time
A woman and her six children were driven from Lviv to the Polish border crossing on March 9, by Roman Tymchyshyn. Alongside them in the photograph is a man from Yemen who has been living in Ukraine for many years after fleeing conflict in his home country A woman and her six children were driven from Lviv to the Polish border crossing on March 9, by Roman Tymchyshyn. Alongside them in the photograph is a man from Yemen who has been living in Ukraine for many years after fleeing conflict in his home country. He is now seeking refuge for a second time

“That’s what we do, we help our nation, soldiers and community,” he said.

Translating for his grandparents, the emotion of the upheaval they have faced is clear as well as their relief in finding safety.

“They’re feeling very well here, calm and safe. They’re really thankful to the community of this country for accepting them,” Roman said.

Read More

  • Ukranian mother in east Belfast describes moment Russian missiles forced her to flee home country
  • Ukranians to mark anniversary of Russian invasion at Belfast City Hall

Having spent all their lives on their village farm, it is the first time they have ever been abroad.

“For them it’s a big change to come all the way here, to travel the whole way across Europe and obviously their lifestyle changed dramatically.

“They don’t have a farm field here, so they’re a bit bored but they accept the change quite well.”

After spending the majority of their lives in peace time, witnessing the Russian invasion has resurfaced painful childhood memories.

“My grandmother, she lost her parents and two of her brothers. Only herself and three other siblings were left alive,” Roman said.

Roman Tymchyshyn (right) with a Ukrainian passenger who he drove in his black cab to the Polish border
Roman Tymchyshyn (right) with a Ukrainian passenger who he drove in his black cab to the Polish border Roman Tymchyshyn (right) with a Ukrainian passenger who he drove in his black cab to the Polish border

“After the war ended, she never thought it would happen again in the future. She said the world and the population should have learned something.

“My grandfather lost his eye, he lost his family. For them it was a really difficult time, they were only six years of age.

“Now they are experiencing a second war at this later stage of their life. It’s also difficult because they are very dependent on their family.”

On their experience of leaving Ukraine, he said: “Obviously it was a difficult decision, you can probably feel the emotion in their voice.”

After driving his grandparents safely to Lviv, relatives were able to drive them by car over the Polish border to take a flight to Dublin.

“They had never been abroad, they had never experienced border crossing procedures and this was a trip of two or three days for them,” Roman said.

“It was very difficult and challenging for them, but at the same time they were amazed to see how big the world is and how picturesque the countries are, especially from the sky.”

While safe in Northern Ireland, Yaroslava and Mykola have left behind other children and grandchildren in Ukraine and worry constantly for their safety.

“They are able to communicate with them over the internet, so they speak to them whenever they can. They feel sad about this but at the same time very happy,” Roman said.

Almost a year after settling into their new lives, Yaroslava and Mykola are doing their best to stay positive despite no signs of the war ending.

“Obviously they hope for the best and do know the war will be over eventually, they only wish peace to everyone and hope everyone can love each other and no more war in the future," Roman said.

The couple also expressed their thanks to the NHS, including the doctors who care for them in their advanced age.

“They feel big improvements. They find life here so much easier, they wish to live longer in these conditions but they are already very thankful for the local community and country,” Roman said.

On caring for her parents, Hanna said: “We are waiting for the war to end and our victory. It’s a great happiness to be reunited and to look after them and supervise them in this age.

“We feel a big privilege to look after them.

“On the other hand, it’s also very challenging because they are getting older and very unwell sometimes.

“But with the local healthcare system it makes it so much easier. So it’s a big honour and we feel happy to be here together in these circumstances.”