Like my namesake the saint, I have travelled a hard road not yet complete. From missile strikes in Kyiv, warplanes and paratroopers, country roads of ancient history and lanes of compacted sand.
My journey was not of my planning, it was guided by two forces, the people of Ukraine and those of Ireland. It involved cross-country drives away from troop landings and missiles, safehouses and long journeys through day and night.
It wasn’t a journey on my own, my immediate company was family. My wife, her 80-year-old mother, my wife’s daughter and her three-year-old daughter. It was also thousands of other vehicles making their own journey, and friends, some of whose names I did not even know, but are now as close to me as any in my life as they gave me shelter and safe passage.
Crossing Europe’s largest country meant time, calm, discipline and great good luck. It was not a time to fail, carrying a vulnerable child and sickly mother-in-law. I could never consider failure and knew that the best in people would prove to be alive and well, even in the face of their own tragedy.
It started with cruise missiles and rockets, the closest 2km away destroying the bridge to Irpin, where I have an apartment. It is in parts a pretty town, one of three close to Kyiv — Gostomel, Bucha and Irpin.
Google them now and you see images of massive destruction of Russian military and domestic homes. Yesterday they killed a baby, not yet a few months old. Some days ago they shot a 14-year-old playing in a yard, so he would not say he saw them.
My friends evacuated 1,500 women and children yesterday, the rest will leave today. Those who do not go will continue the fight. Bodies already pile high, Russian ones. Those not killed were made to call their mothers in Russia to explain what they did. Each one was filmed and posted to their social media pages.
Mothers rage on these calls…”but Vova, what did you do? How could you? Are you my son at all?” “I am sorry mama”, the boys, often in their teens, sob. It’s hard to hear unless you know the victims.
And yet these are the lucky ones. Mobile incinerators are used by the Russian military to render bodies into ash, so Putin can lie about the casualties. There are many such vehicles. The Ukrainians gather the bodies of Russian soldiers and place them in chilled railway containers. They have 10,000 already. A crop of evil and witlessness.
Yesterday I called my neighbour in Irpin and they answered. They are okay for now and my place is undamaged. I asked that they open it to others made homeless by these boy soldiers.
Now I am in Warsaw, somewhat broken by the scenes. Families are lining up at the border saying goodbye to their loved ones. Women and children come to Europe, men and women of military competence and all men aged 18-60 return to face the enemy.
It took five hours for us to clear the border as this scene repeated endlessly for at least 4km, a trail of broken hearts which started with bravery, but once in Poland, dissolved into grief.
At the second relief station, reality dawned. The girl with a cat in her coat and a dog at her feet, the old woman in gifted clothes, the mother and daughter, whose car contents is all they have. I also have this shock. We are refugees now.
We have all left behind cherished memories, pets that cannot be taken, favourite plants which slowly die, wedding dresses and pictures of people who have passed.
Photos of husbands and wives, children who are no longer with them. These faces stare out to emptied rooms.
Birds, fish, lizards stare emptily, not knowing that they will die, slowly. Toys lie where they were left, gardens dormant now will emerge in neglect. Spring will not bring any hope.
This infestation of evil cannot be allowed. Today they attacked a nuclear power station. Putin already intends nuclear war, having sought to possess Chernobyl. They did twice, only to be removed. Each time radiation was released.