Ireland offers leukemia treatment hopes for young Ukrainian boy who was unable to continue his treatment in his war-torn country

Ireland offers leukemia treatment hopes for young Ukrainian boy who was unable to continue his treatment in his war-torn country

Five-year-old Leonid Shapoval had been due to have a bone marrow transplant to treat life-threatening leukaemia this week, but Russia's invasion of Ukraine forced his family to flee.

Now, when he should have been recovering in a hospital bed in Kyiv, he is in the garden at his great-aunt's house in southwest Ireland, as his parents recount their escape.

Leonid's mother, Yana, 31, said the only hope for him was to leave, after scrambling to pack up their lives and queue for medicines to protect him from life-threatening sepsis.

Yana, her husband, Serhiy, 30, and Leonid had never visited Ireland before but set off from their home in Cherkasy, in central Ukraine, with their belongings in just one suitcase.

Leonid's medical documents were "the most important things we had", Yana told AFP.

They drove west to Poland, taking dirt roads to avoid combat areas, and their car was shaken by nearby explosions.

They were given an emergency escort across the border because of his condition to avoid waiting in 20 kilometres (12 miles) of tailbacks.

Five days later they arrived in Dublin via Zurich, where they had to convince officials the Irish government had lifted visa requirements to allow them in.

Their arrival at Dublin airport, where family welcomed them with the Ukrainian flag, was a moment of "bitter relief", said Yana, who calls her son Lyonya.

"I felt that here we will be safe and we will be helped, everything will be done here to take care of Lyonya, that we will not be here alone."

- Survivor's guilt -

Yana, a trained psychologist, says she is suffering from survivor's guilt.

The hospital where Leonid lived for much of the last eight months following his diagnosis has been damaged in the Russian advance, Yana said.

Many of the children who were receiving treatment when the war began have been forced to stay despite the danger.

"There are the same children as Lyonya, there are children who also need special help," she said.

"These children are having the hardest time right now... it is very scary to watch what is happening."

Liaising with the family during their journey was Irish member of parliament for South-West Cork, Michael Collins.

He was alerted to their plight by Leonid's great-aunt Victoria Walden and her husband David, with whom the Shapovals are now staying near the village of Ballydehob.

"We kept in communication with the department of foreign affairs," Collins explained. "There was a lot of concerns and worries."

Collins is now helping the family with medical arrangements in Ireland, helped by the local community in the remote region who have been moved by Leonid's plight.

"People have had situations like a child with leukaemia in the blood and know the difficulties these people are going through," he said.

"Everybody wants to do something and it's very kind and typical Irish, to be quite honest."

- 'Thank you' -

Ireland, with a population of just five million, has indicated it expects to take some 100,000 people from Ukraine who have fled Russia's invasion.

Roughly 1,800 have arrived in Ireland since the start of the invasion. Most have family connections.

Plans are now being made for Leonid to be treated in Ireland.

A day after the family's arrival, Leonid was seen by doctors at a local medical centre and then referred to a hospital in Cork city 90 minutes' drive away.

He is due for a consultation at a Dublin paediatric hospital where the family expects a bone marrow transplant to take place when possible, subject to tests.

Any concerns about mounting medical bills have also evaporated, after more than 65,000 euros ($71,000) was raised of an original 1,000-euro goal on a GoFundMe page.

The family has been overwhelmed by the response.

"Thank you to all those who helped us, we are very pleased. We are generally surprised at how friendly everyone is, how much everyone wants to help," Yana said.

Leonid, who says he likes the animals he has seen in Ireland and being close to the Atlantic Ocean, is also grateful.

"Thank you to the people who helped us," he said.

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