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  •  /  The Expat Experience: Ukrainians in Ireland tell us their story

The Expat Experience: Ukrainians in Ireland tell us their story

While the news headlines of 2015 have been dominated by events in Syria, 2014 was a year in which the worlds gaze was also fixed on Ukraine.  In what began as a series of civil demonstrations against the government in early 2014 – commonly referred to as the ‘Euromaiden’ event – the country soon found itself on the brink of a ‘de facto’ war with neighboring Russia.  Tense fighting ensued in the Eastern part of the country, resulting in the deaths of many.

Despite the Ukrainian population in Ireland being generally small, the events of 2014 brought renewed interest in the country.  This was highlighted by the ‘Ukraine: ‘Inspiring dignity’ Exhibition which took place in Dublin last February, a multi-art exhibition created by participants of the ‘Euromaiden’.  A special conference on Ukraine also took place in Dublin City University last February, where many important political actors and professors debated how to solve the conflict and crisis.

We at Babylon Radio caught up with three Ukrainian’s who arrived in Ireland between 2014 and 2015, the period in which hostilities began.  Alexander, Olena and Yuliana discuss life in Ireland, what they miss about life back in Ukraine, and how they feel about the political situation back home.

Where in Ukraine are you from?

Alexander – I’m from Kiev

Olena – I was born in the city of Vinnytsia, but lived in Kiev from 2008 until 2015.

Yuliana – I’m from a town which is 130km from Kiev.

What brought you to Ireland, and why did you choose Ireland as a place to move in particular?

Alexander – I got a job offer in Dublin, and I guess Ireland always appealed to me.  I always liked the beautiful nature and the Irish music, so I decided it would be an interesting place for me to go.

Olena –  I met a guy a few years ago who was studying in Dublin.  We got married, and we decided to relocate to Dublin in 2015 when he got a job.  So the war in Ukraine – and poor economic situation there also –  was not really a decisive factor in my choice.

Yuliana – I was working in a few different countries before deciding to relocate to Ireland in 2014.  Ireland was proposed as the next destination by my employer.  I felt Ireland fulfilled a number of important factors, such as the safety of my family, quality of education, economic conditions, etc.  The fact Ireland is an English speaking nation was also a very important factor.

Do you think there are enough services and shops for the Ukrainian community in Ireland?  Could there be more done in this regard?

Alexander – For the broader Eastern community there are a lot of shops around, particularly Lithuanian and Polish shops.  The Ukrainian community, however, is only still growing – a lot of Ukrainians only came here in the last year, from what I know.  So perhaps there is not enough of us here yet, for there to be specific Ukrainian shops and services.

Olena – I know that there is a Ukrainian school in Dublin.  I would also like to attend a Ukrainian protestant church in Dublin, but I don’t think one exists. I have never met Ukrainian people around Dublin, and it seems there are  generally not many Ukrainians in Ireland.  Most of the Eastern/Central European population in Dublin are from countries such as Russia, Slovenia, Latvia, and Poland.

Yuliana – Ukrainians have a very strong and powerful Ukrainian-Catholic community and church in Dublin, but there is no Ukrainian Orthodox church.   In terms of shops, there seems to be mostly Polish-Lithuanian shops.  I have noticed sometimes when shopping, however, that there are Ukrainian products or ‘Made in Ukraine’ products available for sale.

What do you miss most about Ukraine?

Alexander – Mainly my relatives and friends.

Olena – Everything.  The food, the people, the weather.  The weather especially – I miss calm sunny days without any rain, hot summers,  and the weather not changing every fifteen minutes!  I also miss the transport system, as the Ukrainian underground is very good; unlike Dublin buses, which are my nightmare! The buses here look very good, but I always feel sick after using them.

Yuliana – I miss all my family and friends, and our home parties.  My son is missing his grand-parents, as they unfortunately have very little opportunity to come to Ireland.  I also miss the quality and ‘brighter’ cultural life in Ukraine – the theaters, exhibitions, and high-end events.

How do you feel Irish people perceive the political situation in Ukraine – Is it something they care strongly about, or are they indifferent towards it?

Alexander – There are only a few people I know who take an interest in the political situation back home. Most people don’t know much about Ukraine and the political events, but sometimes people ask me about it.

Olena – People here don’t really seem to know or care too much about it.  I think some people here don’t even know where Ukraine is located.

Yuliana – The more I learn about things, the more I believe Ireland and Ukraine have quite a common history.  When I explain the conflict in Ukraine to Irish people, they tend to see how it parallels with Irish history.  They care because they know what it means ”to have the war at your gates”, because the Irish as a nation was also once suffering and fighting for its independence.  There are people here who care and are interested in events back home, but there is also people who are indifferent.

Ukrainians who live in Ireland are very active, and do all their best to support the native country: they collect and send home various humanitarian help (food, medicine, clothes, etc) and use any opportunity to explain to Irish people the situation and roots of the crisis.  A non-profit organisation called ”Ukrainian connection” has also been created.  This was set-up by Ukrainian activists and Irish supporters, and it aims to increase the general knowledge about Ukraine primarily through a variety of art and cultural events.

There is quite a big Russian population in Ireland.  Despite the political events at home, is the relationship between Russians and Ukrainians in Ireland generally good?

Alexander – Yes, it’s good.  I have several colleagues who are Russian and we all have good relations.

Olena – I am ok with the Russian people here.   Sometimes there are those who believe that everything their government says on TV about the war must be true…. but generally speaking they are not bad people, and it is obviously not their war or their fault.

Yuliana – Since the war started the relations between the two countries changed, and of course this is having an impact on the Ukrainian and Russian communities relations (in any country).  My opinion is that ”generally good” relations might be the answer.  There are some battles in the ‘virtual world’ or on social media, when it comes to different points of views.  And I guess there can be disagreements between the groups in general….but most importantly there are Russians who support Ukrainians and provide help, who live with the ”open eyes and ears”, and who wish both countries real peace.

A special ‘Ukraine Through Fairytales’ Exhibition is taking place in Templebar in Dublin from the 6th-12th December.  The exhibition showcases fairytales through the well-known Ukrainian school of book illustration.  For more details visit http://filmbase.ie/ukraine-through-fairytales-exhibition/#.Vl5zanbhDIU

Are you a Ukrainian in Ireland, or interested in meeting Ukrainians in Ireland?  Check out the official ‘Ukrainians in Ireland’ facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/Ukrainians.in.Ireland/

For more details on everything Ukrainian in Ireland, check out http://www.ukrainians.ie/en/

About the author

Brian Cunningham


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