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Ukraine: Couple fleeing Kharkiv amid fresh Russian offensive say ‘life in tent on Irish streets better option for many’

Updated: May 27

Photo: Nataliia Vysotska, 22, and Andrii Zheltobriukh, 22, are among the many in wartorn Kharkiv who are ready to flee as Russian attacks increase

By Jeff Farrell in Kyiv

A young couple fleeing an area in Ukraine where Russia launched a fresh invasion earlier this month say many there would opt to live in a tent on the streets of Ireland than stay in their home state as Moscow ramps up its attacks.

Andrii Zheltobriukh, 22, and Nataliia Vysotska, 22, are weighing up their options overseas as they seek to escape the northeastern city of Kharkiv --- and would consider Ireland despite that a surge in migrants seeking shelter has left many sleeping rough.


Their bid to move abroad comes as Moscow’s forces pushed into villages in Kharkiv oblast, in an area that borders Russia, after it launched a fresh offensive that opened up a new front.

The move caught Kyiv by surprise and its military last week admitted Russia was “achieving tactical success” after the ground assault, sparking the evacuation of almost 6,000 people.

Photo: Nataliia Vysotska, 22, at the site of a building in Kharkiv hit in a Russian attack

But Moscow has for months been hammering Kharkiv city itself, where Andrii and Nataliia live in an urban area just 60kms from Russia, with powerful guided bombs known as glide bombs.

In the latest attack on Sunday, Russia hit a residential area in Kharkiv city in a missile strike that killed six people and left 27 injured, local officials said.

Kharkiv’s pre war population of some 3 million in Ukraine’s second biggest city has fallen to about 1.3m, officials say, as many have fled to western areas in Ukraine or to abroad.

'It's really dangerous and we are trying to leave.'

Now Andrii, a building engineer, and Nataliia, a marketing specialist, are looking to join the many who have travelled overseas for a safer life.

“It’s really dangerous at night especially and we are trying to leave,” Nataliia said of the frequent airstrikes.

Photo: Andrii Zheltobriukh, 22, at the site of a damaged building in Kharkiv early in the invasion in 2022.

“Everone is working away in their jobs, but you know my favourite joke about Kharkiv is that if you die it is your problem because you chose to stay,” she said, speaking in the capital Kyiv.

And Ireland is among the options they would consider in a move overseas despite that the country’s housing crisis has left many new migrants who seek shelter on a tent on Irish streets.

'When you have a child or a big family you leave because of safety'

But Nataliia said that the prospect of that dire outcome in a city such as Dublin would not deter Ukrainians from travelling to Ireland.

“I heard about this situation but we really don’t have a choice in Kharkiv. You really haven’t got a choice to live where you want and you need to leave Ukraine.

“When you have a child or a big family you choose to leave because of safety.”

Photo: Nataliia Vysotska, 22, and Andrii Zheltobriukh, 22, in Kyiv this month (May 2024)

Building engineer Andrii is currently working on the reconstruction of the Kharkiv suburb of North Saltivka that was left in ruins from Russian shelling in the early months of the invasion.

This journalist visited apartment blocks turned to rubble after Kyiv’s then successful counter offensive pushed back the Kremlin invaders in September 2022.


But Moscow has ramped up its attacks since March on Kharkiv with the deadly powerful guided bombs known as glide bombs.

That hasn’t stopped building engineers such as Andrii who is working on projects to repair water and energy infrastructure that the Kremlin has pounded.

Photo: Building damaged in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine following a Russian strike. Pic taken in winter 2023.

“Me and my citizens we really like Kharkiv, it is beautiful. Kharkiv is in my heart and I can’t see this city destroyed,” Andriiy said.

But he admits that since Moscow has ramped up the attacks in recent months that he and Nataliia have nevertheless vowed to quit their native city.

'In the last few months, the war is higher and higher.'

“We both want to leave Kharkiv, because the last few months it is really very big amount of attacks and the war is higher and higher.”

More than 100,000 Ukrainians have fled their wartorn country for Ireland, figures show.

Many still travel to Ireland for shelter despite that the government has slashed benefits for new arrivals and that the housing crisis has worsened.

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