Irishman Bradley Stafford and his wife Anastasiia were full of bliss on their wedding day just seven months ago in Kyiv, the prime target of the Russian bombardment in Ukraine.
oday, Bradley (29) and Anastasiia (24) are among the thousands left homeless after fleeing Ukraine.
The couple, who escaped with their friend and their golden retriever, Bailey, are renting an Airbnb in Krakow, Poland, with a plan to travel by road and ferry to Ireland in a couple of weeks.
The couple’s home in Kyiv is based near a military base and Mr Stafford fears their apartment, left to his wife by her grandfather, will be destroyed by Russian forces.
“The building is not the most important thing but it’s still your home,” the photographer said.
“Ana will be devastated if it’s bombed. That would be our home, gone, without a thought.”
Mr Stafford said he had a view of a TV tower in Kyiv, from the couple’s bedroom window. That structure was bombed by Russian troops in recent days.
“The fact is it looks like it’s only going to get so much worse for Kyiv”, he said.
“I’m trying to think positively for my mental state. But I’m expecting the worst.”
The Wexford photographer has lived in several countries over the last decade but chose to stay in Ukraine because he felt it was a “magical place”.
He moved to Kyiv in 2017, where he met and fell in love with tech worker Anastasiia.
They married in a town hall and Anastasiia broke with tradition, wearing a vibrant, short red dress while Mr Stafford wore an unbuttoned white shirt and wheat-coloured chinos.
The couple held up their marriage certificates proudly, as they launched head first into an exciting life together in a cosmopolitan European city.
The wedding took place during the pandemic and Mr Bradley’s parents, Cindy and Niall, who live in Sligo, have yet to meet Anastasiia.
“My family haven’t even been able to meet my wife yet.
“She kept asking us to visit and it’s a shame I will be bringing my wife to Ireland, under these circumstances.
“I know my mam will put her arms around us and give us the biggest hug.
“But right now, I feel guilty for leaving Ukraine.
“Ana wants to start working (remotely) again. She wants to keep busy. But she doesn’t know if she’ll see her family again. We don’t know if we will ever get back home to Kyiv again.
“On the morning we left, we drove to her grandparents’ house and said our goodbyes, and that was horrific.”
But despite the trauma he has witnessed, it is clear Mr Stafford fell in love with the country and he’s not going to give up on it.
“It might appear today, that Ukraine doesn’t have much of a future,” he said. “But I believe Ukraine will have a much better future than Russia.
“For the sake of humanity, for the sake of a peaceful future in the world, Russian people need to take responsibility upon themselves. They need to stand up and protest in huge numbers against Putin.
“If they don’t, the people of Russia will not only suffer economically, they’ll also carry this awful shame for generations – the type of shame the German people had to carry after Hitler.
“They cannot just sit back and let this happen to their neighbours.
“It doesn’t matter how afraid they are of Putin. They have to stand up because this is much bigger than their fear.”