Ukrainian supermodel tells how she fled to Ireland after the war

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Before the war in Ukraine, Tatyana Bryk had already achieved what many could only dream of.

A pharmacist by training, the 24-year-old had built a successful modeling career, spending three months working in Malaysia when she was just 16, before taking third place in Ukraine’s Next Top Model and landing later the crown in an all-star reunion of the show.

This was largely thanks to her mother filling out the first form on her behalf. It was also her mother who convinced her to flee Ukraine in hopes of pursuing her career, when war broke out on February 24.

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“My mother manipulated me”, she says The Ryan Tubridy Show, laughing. “She said to me, maybe if you’re going to leave, everything will be fine, we’ll rent a house, me and your father will come.

“When I got to Ireland I was like, mum, I got the job, I got it all covered, it’s fine. She was like, we’re going to stay.”

Since moving to Ireland in March, Tatyana says the worst thing is that her parents have “gotten used to” the ongoing war.

“It’s not sure. I don’t want to say that but my father, he saw in front of him how people died because of the rocket. It was the second time I heard my father cry. He was panicking , he was in shock and trembling.

“The first time I heard him cry was when my parents put me on a train to get out of Ukraine.”

Tatyana herself had to witness her share of deeply traumatic visions, including when she made the arduous journey from Ukraine to Ireland. “When I arrived in Ireland I took a month or two off because I was really traumatized by what I saw in Ukraine,” she tells Ryan.

“To come to Ireland, it took four days. What traumatized me was that my station in my home town was bombed, so I couldn’t get a train to the western part of Ireland. Ukraine to go to Poland, so my parents took me to Odessa.

“From Odessa, it was I think the worst I have seen in my life. Thousands and thousands of people and there was only one train. When it arrived, everyone started running…under the sound of explosions.”

She remembers that the station was crowded with women, children, all running for a single train. “On a seat on the train we had four people. Some people stayed up for seven, eight hours. I didn’t sleep at all because I couldn’t even sit up.

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Once in western Ukraine, she waited in line for an entire day to catch another train to Poland, she said. “You see old people crying, children, no food.” She remembers the townspeople trying to give travelers food because they were fainting.

A particularly heartbreaking moment came when, as she was waiting to board a train for Poland, the conductor announced that there were only two seats left.

“I was standing [with] a child and his mother. His mother wanted to give this child to his grandparents who are in Poland, and she wanted to stay in Ukraine. She heard ‘two people’ and she gave me her child. She was like, Come on, take it! Go!'”

Tatyana spent the train journey trying to get the child to eat chocolate, but managed to bring her to her grandparents. From there she took a bus to Warsaw and eventually to Ireland.

“I think I lost about 10 or 15 kg because I didn’t eat anything for four or five days.

She highlighted the help she received from the Irish, saying: “Ireland is just an amazing country, the people are just amazing. I want to say thank you to everyone.”

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“But my heart and my soul are in Ukraine and my parents are also in Ukraine,” she continues. “It’s sad to say but you only understand what you lost when you left it. When you live in Ukraine a lot of people from other countries say the same thing, ‘oh I don’t like to live here, I want to go to another country”. But when it comes to you, you say no, I want to go back.”

Despite her terrible and traumatic journey, Tatyana knows she is one of the lucky ones. She tells Ryan that there are now Ukrainians in her hotel who no longer have a home. “I can come back to my family, to my house.”

Now living in Athlone in a hotel set up to house Ukrainian refugees, Tatyana says she works both at a company that provides care for the elderly and disabled, and as a model. She also wasted no time in qualifying in everything from Excel to payroll.

However, her current goal is to start a charity to support the soldiers, as a gift to her mother on her birthday.

To listen to Tatyana’s full interview, click above.

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this story, please visit: www.rte.ie/helplines.

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