Freddy (6) and Iris (5) Kent’s picture of the Ukrainian family and their cat, Alice.

Family’s ‘purr-fect’ reunion with cat

The story of a cat, the Kents and the war in Ukraine

A native of Terryglass working in a country bordering Russia is playing a central role in helping not alone besieged Ukrainians to flee the war - but their pets too. Jeffrey Kent has represented Irish people in post-Soviet Georgia since his appointment in 2019 as the Honorary Consul of Ireland. In the early weeks of the war in Ukraine, Russian soldiers forcible relocated thousands of residents from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol to Russia. Those who had the means to ultimately get out of Russia travelled over land and escaped through neighbouring countries like Georgia, where the Terryglass native is helping with the Irish efforts to assist the vast numbers of people displaced by the war. While Georgia does not have the facilities to house an influx of refugees, it nevertheless serves as an important departure hub for the displaced people to travel to countries able to provide accommodation. Jeffrey did not wish to share particulars of his involvement in the many difficult and tragic situations he has been involved in. But he did relate details of one particularly heart-warming story of how he helped a family from the bombed-out city of Mariupol reunite with their pet cat that had been left behind after they fled to Ireland. The sad separation of the family and their adored cat, Alice, occurred some weeks ago as they prepared to board a flight to Dublin. It transpired that Alice was not booked on the 3am flight and had to stay behind in Georgia, causing much upset for the family, parents Igor Zubkova, his pregnant wife Natalia and their eight-year-old daughter, Maria. But to the rescue came Jeffrey, who took poor abandoned Alice home and cared for the cat over a period of two weeks while documentation was completed to ensure she could be allowed on board a flight to be reunited with her family.


In fact, Alice lived comfortably in a rolled-up carpet in Jeffrey’s office in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi for the fortnight, before he managed to send her on her way to Ireland for the emotional reunion. Playing an artistic role in the shipment were Jeffrey's two young daughters, Freddy, aged 6, and her sister, Iris, aged 5, who decorated the cat carrier in which Alice was transported. The girls drew their own picture of the cat's family-of-three eagerly awaiting her arrival in Dublin. Both of Jeffrey's little daughters speak fluent English, Georgian and Russian and the elder, Freddy - who is currently learning to write English - drafted a note under her dad's supervision about Alice, a message for airport staff and the flight crew to ensure they were fully aware of the preciousness of their live cargo.


Like her unfortunate family, life for the poor cat Alice changed radically since the Russians set out on their campaign to completely destroy their home city after Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces invaded Ukraine in February. Similar to many other refugees, Alice and her human family were originally brought by bus out of Mariupol by Russian soldiers to a camp near Rustov on Don in southern Russia. However, they managed to escape and took a minibus to the Georgian border where they queued for 36 hours before crossing to safety and temporary accommodation in Tbilisi. While Ireland is their new and strange home for the family for now, dad, Igor, already had an Irish connection as he previously worked from Mariupol for a Dublin based company as a software developer. Ultimately, the reunification of the feline with its family was made much less complicated than it might otherwise have been, due to the decision by the Irish Government to relax laws governing the movement of pets for Ukrainian refugees ending up in Ireland.


Incidentially, Jeffrey named his elder daughter Freddy after his own grandfather, Frederick Kerr, who was Manager around the late 1940s of the Hibernian Bank that operated at the time in Kenyon Street, now the site of the Peppermill Restaurant run by the Gill family. Indeed, the Kerr's have associations with armed conflict between nations stretching back to the First World War in which Jeffrey's other grandfather, Harold Kerr, who lived in Gurtalougha House - situated on the shores of Lough Derg between Ballinderry and Terryglass - was a pilot. One day Harold, who was based at the Curragh in Kildare, took the notion to fly his war plane back to his home in north west Tipperary. When he arrived over Gurtalougha, he dropped the message box from the aircraft on to the courtyard of the house with a note saying he would be “home for lunch”. Seemingly, it caused great excitement in the area. As well as being a war pilot, Harold Kent was well-known for his many inventions. One of the most famous was the windscreen wiper, for which he sold the patent to British Leyland. He also achieved renown, particularly in agricultural circles in Ireland, for inventing the ‘Kent Gapper’, a machine that saved farmers a huge amount of manual labour as it was designed to thin out turnips and sugarbeet, previously a slow and labourious job done by hand. The late Harold's grandson, Jeffrey, has been living for several years in Georgia where he operates his own drilling business. Most of the time he is involved in developing water wells in the agricultural sector and for humanitarian projects. He is also involved in mining - not to mention his role as the Honourary Counsel for Ireland that, as you now know, sometimes throws up some odd challenges indeed.