A hundred thousand welcomes but not much infrastructure

Lack of security in accommodation means Ukrainians in Ireland are unable to get jobs, find schools for their children, or to plan for longer than a few days at a time. Ukrainian journalist Polina Bashkina spoke to some of her compatriots about their experiences of the Irish welcome
A hundred thousand welcomes but not much infrastructure

Anna Makarenko: 'Killarney is a wonderful tourist town, but there are only vacancies for waiters or bartenders.'

"I am on the verge of returning to Ukraine, but our city is constantly bombed, and my wife is pregnant. But it's also impossible to live apart from her."

Alexander Safronov's room is only 3m by 3m. Within that space, he manages to rush from wall to wall, like a tiger in a cage. He cannot be reunited with his pregnant wife, who lives in another city.

Anna Makarenko was evicted from her hotel in Limerick just as she found a job. The new place of residence was three hours away from the previous one. As a result, she lost her job before she even started.

Another Ukrainian woman, who wished to remain anonymous, is in quarantine because, together with 60 other people, she has been living in a tent for a month and a half, waiting for resettlement. It was not difficult to catch Covid in such a situation.

Ukrainian Denis is an engineer, and for several months he has not been able to find a job in his profession. Irish companies want to finalise a contract for a year, and, according to the letter of temporary protection, Denis doesn't have the right to live here for that long. 

In addition, there are very few vacancies in towns, and, he believes, companies prefer to hire Irish people.

I must say that Ukrainians were reluctant to talk about their difficulties and problems. Some even showed animosity towards me: "Why do you write about the negative, when wonderful Irish people have helped us so much, have done so much good for us?" "Editorial assignment," I answered. 

I also found many Ukrainians who talk about their problems in Ireland want to remain anonymous not just because they are afraid their problems will get worse, but also because they are truly grateful for the sincere welcome they have received. 

Those willing to speak described a wonderful welcome, but very little infrastructure to back it up. 

Before the active phase of the war (we have to remember that the war in Ukraine began in 2014), Alexander lived happily. A political candidate for deputies of Ukraine, the owner of a perfume factory, a garment factory, and four post offices, he built a house and a future for his family in the city of Mykolaiv. 

Alexander Safronov and his family: After falling out with his mother-in-law, Alexander was forced to leave his family behind in Caherciveen and move to Gort:  'I would like to move in with my wife, but there are no more places in Gort's Convent of Mercy, and I don't have the opportunity to return to Caherciveen either.'
Alexander Safronov and his family: After falling out with his mother-in-law, Alexander was forced to leave his family behind in Caherciveen and move to Gort:  'I would like to move in with my wife, but there are no more places in Gort's Convent of Mercy, and I don't have the opportunity to return to Caherciveen either.'

Everything changed on February 25, 2022, when a rocket hit the courtyard beside his home. His neighbour was torn to pieces. Windows were smashed. Alexander realised that he had to save his family.

In Ireland, Alexander, his wife, mother-in-law, and two children settled in Caherciveen. However, the stress experienced affected family relations: Alexander fell out with his mother-in-law. Their relations worsened to the extent that the hotel owner asked him to leave. 

After several days of living on the beach, Alexander arrived in Gort, where he found shelter in the convent with other Ukrainians.

He found work at a construction site: he mixed concrete and performed earthworks in any weather, even in heavy rain. But there is a contractual problem between the company and the Government, meaning construction is suspended, so Alexander has lost his job. 

"The building site is closed. Eighty houses are frozen," he says. "For the past two weeks, I've been looking for a new job. I am an electrical engineer. And I can't find a job in a small town in my specialty."

In the meantime, Alexander reconciled with his wife; they are now expecting their third child. His wife is two months' pregnant, and Alexander regularly visits his beloved. 

"Each weekend like this costs me €500-€700 because the hotels here are costly. In two months, I have seen her four times, and it cost me €2,500," he  explains.

"I would like to move in with my wife, but there are no more places in Gort's Convent of Mercy, and I don't have the opportunity to return to Caherciveen either. 

"My wife and I went to Citywest in Dublin last week. We were told they could not help us, although their website says they are doing everything possible to unite families. They redirected me to the immigration office, where I was also refused due to the large influx of people. 

"I have approached the heads of our management company several times, but they told me I should solve my problems by myself. There are still places in our convent, I am ready to buy furniture for empty rooms, but they've refused me. 

I am on the verge of returning to Ukraine, but our city is constantly bombed, and my wife is pregnant. But it is also impossible to live apart from her."

Readers of the Irish Examiner may remember Anna Makarenko from my previous articles. 

"I decided to take a chance and come to Ireland because I heard that the Irish support us and understand the essence of our war for freedom," said Anna. She lived for a period of time in a Limerick hotel. But two months later, tourist season was approaching and the hotel needed its rooms back. 

By then, Anna and her neighbours had found jobs, registered for English classes, enrolled children in a kindergarten, and even opened a Ukrainian charity hub to help refugees. And all of a sudden, everything fell apart.

"Every day, we asked Ipas [International Protection Accommodation Services] where they would take us. Have you found accommodation for us? Every day there was the same answer: 'Don't worry, we won't leave you on the street!' 

"We found out where we would live only on the day of check-out from the hotel. As a result, we ended up in the town of Killarney. This is a lovely town, but there is no work in my profile, there is no kindergarten for children, and we cannot further develop our social project-Ukrainian hub. So it had to be shut down."

Anna Makarenko: 'I even have a letter from a Government organisation where I was offered to sleep in the same bed with a complete stranger!'
Anna Makarenko: 'I even have a letter from a Government organisation where I was offered to sleep in the same bed with a complete stranger!'

In Limerick, Anna had been appointed as a communications manager with Ukrainians. She was prepared to get up at 5am and spend almost three hours on the road to keep her job. 

"But my manager refused me after the move, arguing that it was unacceptable from the point of welfare and employer's obligations," she says. 

"My professional specialisation in Ukraine is PR and marketing. After six months of probation, I planned to get a permanent job for this qualification here. I am 45 years' old, and I can already share my PR and marketing experience in organisations in Ireland and become a valuable part of the country's development or at least the city. 

"But things went wrong when we were moved to Killarney. I was hoping to return. Every day I wrote tons of letters to all organisations. But to no avail. I even have a letter from a Government organisation where I was offered to sleep in the same bed with a complete stranger! I explained that it violated my rights. They apologised to me and offered me a place in the school gym. 

"We started looking for accommodation in Limerick on our own. There are many empty houses and helpful people in Limerick. When we contacted the hosts, we were told that we had submitted applications to the Red Cross, but they were not approved. The Red Cross slowed down the process. They introduced such requirements that no housing was 'suitable' for us. At the same time, they officially declared that there was no housing.

"We tried to rent a house ourselves, but Ukrainians were refused on the Airbnb website. In addition, everyone asked us to pay the full price. 

One day a woman came to our hub and offered us a place to live. We even went to see it. But when she applied to the Red Cross, they put her on a waiting list for a check that lasted several months. After that everything died down. 

"Killarney is a wonderful tourist town, but there are only vacancies for waiters or bartenders. It is also an issue that in Killarney it's difficult with medicine — there is no hospital there, it's difficult with the choice of a school and the waiting list for it," Anna said.

Anna also wanted to bring her daughter to Ireland from Poland. But her passport was damaged, and it is almost impossible to get a new one now because there are no free slots in the electronic queue of Ukrainian embassies in European countries. 

"Until I find a place to live, I can't bring her here. I can't risk her education. My daughter wants to go to university, and I can't let her down."

Anna Makarenko lost the basis of the new life she so diligently tried to build here due to the movement between the cities of Ireland. She has decided to return to Ukraine now, while the war continues. 

"It may be dangerous there, but there I'm at home and with my loved ones." 

Meanwhile, Svetlana (whose name has been changed at her request) is ill with Covid in a refugee distribution camp near Dublin. 

The attitude towards us is perfect. We are excellently fed, there are kind souls, and there is a place to wash and dry things. We are guarded around the clock. But sometimes I wake up and think: is it Groundhog Day? How long will we be here? 

"The sixth week has gone. If we had been resettled more quickly, I would not have gotten sick," she says. 

"I am not treated. They gave Panadol and everything. There weren't any devices for measuring saturation or pressure. I had to buy them myself to understand what was happening to me. They said they would take me to the hospital if it got really bad or I started choking. Then, they would immediately take me to the doctor for an examination when the test is negative." 

Svetlana is constantly in touch with her doctor from Ukraine and takes the drugs she brought with her. "We ask when we will finally be settled, but they do not know; they are waiting for the information from Ipas."

The difficulties are clear, but two things come across when speaking to my fellow Ukrainians. Firstly, no difficulties will diminish our gratitude for the warmth and sincerity of ordinary Irish people and for the Government's work. 

And the second thought that my fellow citizens asked me to tell: "We did not run from poverty but war. After it, we will return to our country and will rebuild it anew. But we'll always be friends with you."

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