Ukrainian grandmother and her ‘best friend’ Tasha reunited in Clare

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An 86-year-old Ukrainian refugee who was devastated to be separated from her 13-year-old labrador Tasha when she was rescued from the border of Romania has been reunited with her “best friend” in Co Clare today. 

Irishwoman, Debbie Deegan, who founded the To Children with Love charity which helped children in orphanages and in impoverished communities in Russia for 25 years, helped coordinate the massive effort to bring the dog back to her owner which concluded with a “gorgeous moment” in Ballyvaughan.

Today, the Ukrainian grandmother was reunited with the labrador she feared she’d never see again.

Three weeks ago, Debbie Deegan got a phone call from a Russian friend of hers in the US.

“I have a Ukrainian family trying to get out of Ukraine — can you help?”

The family was made up of a grandmother, her son and his wife, and Tasha the labrador. The family, and Tasha, were stuck on the border of Romania due to issues with the grandmother’s papers. She had never left Ukraine and didn’t have a passport.

The decision was made to leave Tasha, Violetta's beloved 13-year-old labrador, behind in Romania
The decision was made to leave Tasha, Violetta’s beloved 13-year-old labrador, behind in Romania

Grandmother, Violeta, and her family started their journey in Odessa, which they left “when the bombs started dropping.” They made it to Molvoda via bus, where they were dropped in the middle of a field in a snowstorm.

“At that point, they started walking, but the grandmother, Violeta, was getting weaker,” Debbie explains.

“They eventually got to a railway station which took them to the border of Romania but at that point, Granny was giving up the will to live. 

“She just couldn’t walk any further. She was collapsing at that point and her son and daughter in law had to carry her.”

It was at this point that the decision was made to leave Tasha, Violetta’s beloved 13-year-old labrador, behind.

“We found a family in Romania who could take the dog off them. At that point, I organised a flight to Vienna and then, they flew to Dublin.” 

When Debbie went to Dublin airport to meet them, she had prepared herself for an exhausted family: “They were wrecked — they’d been travelling for about 12 days at that point and the journey was horrendous.”

But what really struck Debbie was how clearly distressed Violeta was about leaving the dog behind: “She was just devastated. She was distressed. 

It was like she had given up her child. 

“I have a little bit of Russian, which means I understand Ukrainian, and it was all she could talk about.”

At that point, the family were bussed down to a hotel in the West of Ireland, where Debbie kept in touch.

“I was on to them every day, and she just wasn’t recovering. She was crying every day asking for Tasha. I just thought to myself, ‘I have to find this dog’.”

Tasha’s journey

Tasha’s journey to Co Clare, started with Debbie reconnecting with the family in Romania who had taken in Tasha. 

“First we had to make sure she was chipped, vaccinated, that all of her papers were in order.”

Next, Debbie tracked down a dog moving company in Romania: “Initially I didn’t have any faith in them.  I had no idea who they were. The contract was all in Romanian. I didn’t really know if I was doing the right thing. But, we paid them and they got the dog as far as the UK. 

Romania to Clare Tasha caroline delaney
Romania to Clare Tasha caroline delaney

“They had to come through about seven borders with her before they got her into the UK, I couldn’t get them to bring her as far as Ireland.”

In the meantime, Debbie had found an England-based Ukrainian group on Facebook. She posted into the group asking if anyone would be prepared to mind Tasha for a week.

A woman called Lisa Kay, who has two dogs of her own, obliged, and Tasha was picked up on Sunday last.

“She has been spoiled rotten with them,” Debbie laughs.

Next, a friend of Debbie’s, Waterford man John D’Arcy hopped on a ferry to the UK, where he travelled to Birmingham to pick up the beloved pooch. D’Arcy also fundraised to cover the costs of Tasha’s journey to Clare.

On Saturday, Tasha landed in Debbie’s kitchen and today she made the final leg of her journey to Co Clare.

Tasha embarked on the final leg of her journey, Dublin to Clare, today while Violeta waited patiently
Tasha embarked on the final leg of her journey, Dublin to Clare, today while Violeta waited patiently

Speaking after the reunion, Debbie said it was incredible to witness the moment when Violeta was reunited with Tasha.

“The second we opened the door..” she said trailing off with emotion.

“She just held on to the dog, and the dog was licking her face and.. it was just gorgeous.”

An interpreter, who was standing beside Violeta, translated what the grandmother was saying over and over to the dog: “Please forgive me, please forgive me, I had to leave you, I had no choice.”

Violeta and Tasha were reunited today in Clare Picture: Debbie Deegan
Violeta and Tasha were reunited today in Clare Picture: Debbie Deegan

Violeta and Tasha’s story, which Debbie has been documenting on Twitter with the family’s permission, struck a chord with many Irish people who have been waiting for the story to reach its conclusion today.

“So many people sent cards to Violetta,” Debbie says, “the kindness has been overwhelming.”

“It’s been an amazing story of some good people doing good things and it’s blown up because, it’s some light in a very dark time.” 

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