New Voices:
The An Post Writing Prize

Read through the six incredible shortlisted Essays, in the running...

November 5th 2023 - Shortlisted

Ode to Volunteers

She has been riding a full train car. It was almost exclusively full of women of various ages (mothers, sisters, grandmothers, beloved wives). Their faces were marred with sadness and fear, despair and anxiety.

What was waiting for them? The war had swept into the peaceful life of Ukrainians, crossed out all their reasons to be happy, all their hopes.

The train took them westward, far from the combat areas. All of those people ran from war…

“Where am I going?” Liudmyla, a 72-year-old woman, asked herself silently. Her hair was fully grey, she was exhausted and her eyes were puffy from crying, her face was sad in its own special way. Her only son, with his wife, stayed back home. What would she do without them? But it was them who had persuaded her to leave immediately. Because it had been unbearable to look at the old woman, who couldn’t believe what was happening, into the ever-wailing sirens, and into the tragic news from the frontlines. Shrouded in anxiety, she kept on crying.

Finally, Lviv. Exhausted from the lack of sleep, and not wanting any food, she slowly made it along the platform, without even realising what was she doing and where she was going… But, thank God, there were volunteers, who saw a helpless old lady with weak eyesight. They led her to a tent where other volunteers had offered her some hot food. They fed her and then put her on a bus that left for Poland.

Then there was the long queue at the border. It was exhausting to stand for over four hours, but there were no free seats. And then there were local volunteers with hot tea, coffee and sandwiches to help cheer up the exhausted people.

Thank God, this time in Poland, another volunteer, Kachek, brought her to Mrs Monika’s and her caring mother Adelle’s home in the Warsaw suburbs. The women gave her shelter for almost two days, they were loving and caring until the very moment they led her to board the flight.

It was a blessing that when she was already exhausted from searching for her terminal at night in a Vienna airport, as she didn’t know any German, suddenly there was help in the face of a female volunteer who had taken her by the hand to the terminal she needed and helped her to sit down.

In three hours the volunteer had appeared again and helped her through all the pre-flight procedures. And then led her to her gates and advised her to wait before the boarding starts. How did they communicate? That was a mystery because that woman didn’t know any Ukrainian, and Liudmyla didn’t know any German. And yet, they found means to understand each other.

“You are my angel sent from Heaven,” Liudmyla said, hugging her tightly goodbye. She never asked her name, but she was always grateful.

And then there was landing in Dublin, an unknown country, a country that would give her a safe refuge. And not just her, but tens of thousands who were also running away from the war…

There was a saved phrase on her phone that her son had sent her, just in case: “I’m from Ukraine”. And it came in handy. Liudmyla was the oldest amongst the group of Ukrainians, who, after they’d been registered at the landing, had been led off somewhere. Exhausted, she couldn’t walk as fast as they did, so she fell behind and got lost in the endless stream of passengers.

She approached an elderly employee in a uniform, told him this phrase, and he immediately took her to the Ukrainian centre right next to the airport building. From there, she took a bus to the distribution centre in Saggart, in the Dublin suburbs.

Nice volunteers had found a place for an elderly, tired woman in the Citywest Hotel, where she is still living today.

Volunteers who do your work from the calling of your hearts, we are grateful to all of you. It was thanks to you that the far-away Ireland became so close, and people there became so dear and precious to the grateful Ukrainian hearts. Deep bow to all of you! May your homes and your kind hearts know only peace!

Liudmyla Boyko

Lyudmila Boyko

Saggart, Dublin

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Tetiana Petrukhnova
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