As the conflict between Ukraine and Russia passed its first anniversary, Limerick Voice reporter Jack Butler spoke to two refugees left with no choice but to make a new home in the Treaty City
Olena Oleksiienko is a teacher, photographer and mother-of-two who came to Limerick on March 26, 2022 – less than a month after war broke out in her home country. She and her daughters live in a double room at the Pier Hotel, but her husband remains in Ukraine.
“When the war started, we understood that we needed to move because my husband went into the army. I couldn’t hear about bombings and deal with the stress. It [the violence] could just come to your place,” Ms Oleksiienko told Limerick Voice.
The mother-of-two chose Ireland because she has good English and hoped that would lead to employment opportunities, but did not know Limerick would be her final destination until arriving at Dublin Airport.
Ms Oleksiienko helped to organise the Standing for Peace event in the city centre on February 24, recognising one year of war in Ukraine:
“Nobody expected it to [go on for] so long, and I think nobody expected Ukrainians to struggle so much.”
Doras volunteer Serge Korobtsov, from Kyiv, also helped to organise the event, having arrived in Limerick in June 2022.
He said of Standing for Peace, “It was the most significant day of the year for us. One year of the war, one year of emigration, one year out of home, one year of new life.”
“I had just moved away from Ukraine a couple of days before the war,” Mr Korobtsov explained. “My work was to move around Europe, and at the time, it [just so] happened that I was out.
“I started to volunteer in Poland and stayed there until I made the decision to move forward [to Ireland], where I could be useful and help other Ukrainians.
“Limerick is like a second home for me here – and I’m not just saying that for sweet words, I’m most sincere,” he added.
Ms Oleksiienko’s two daughters attend school in Limerick city, which her eldest daughter finds to be a struggle.
“For my eldest, she finished primary school last year [when we first arrived] and she needed to move to secondary school, and this shift – from Ukraine, to one school for two months, and then another school, everything is different for her, so it’s quite hard.”
Last month, the talented photographer ran an exhibition, ‘With Faith’ alongside her friend and fellow Ukrainian, Kateryna Vyshemirska, at Limerick Museum.
“We wanted to make it about Ukrainians in Limerick – how Limerick city helps, how we live through our emotions here. Sometimes it’s okay, sometimes it’s a total disaster… [every day] is different,” she explained.
“One year of the war, one year of emigration,
one year out of home, one year of new life”
While Limerick has not been the site of any large-scale anti-immigration protests in Limerick at the time of writing, decisions on housing refugees have seen some opposition on a local level.
This has included negative reactions to the construction of 30 modular homes at the rear of Radharc Na Cille housing estate in Kilmallock, which has prompted a local petition to be set up in opposition.
In a statement, the residents of the estate said, “We, as a group of residents, feel that we were given no voice and were not consulted on the proposed site at Radharc Na Cille.
“There was no planning required due to emergency legislation that was implemented. We believe our concerns are valid and have met with many people that also have the same valid concerns – people who can’t get a doctor’s appointment or get a place available in the local school where they have lived all of their lives, and families that go back decades.”
Ms Oleksiienko says that most refugees want to contribute to society:
“We are not the reason why there is a shortage of housing – it’s not our fault. We came, and we just want understanding – if we could, we wouldn’t come in this quantity.
“A lot of Ukrainians are trying to get jobs – they are not content to just sit on a bench. I know mothers who are working in Spar while the children are in school, and those who have no English go to clean hotels.”
Despite this resistance, Mr Korobtsov, who began volunteering with Doras just two weeks after arriving in Limerick, has found the generosity extended by Irish people to be among the best globally.
“[Ukrainian refugees in Ireland] need someone who can speak the same language as them, who knows their problems, not hearing it from somebody else. That’s why, with my vision of staying here, [it will be to] help people resolve their problems.”
He can, however, recognise the key issues faced by Ukrainian arrivals; accommodation, access to medical care and job opportunities.
“For those who speak English, we can make a CV ourselves or use the Internet. But for someone with no English, they are stuck at the first hurdle,” he explained.
While the war continues, it is clear the spirit of the Ukrainian people is defiant for the future, with many hopeful of someday returning home – but happy to remain in Limerick for the time being.
Read more Limerick Voice stories about the war in Ukraine.
Lack of long-term planning to accommodate Limerick’s Ukrainian arrivals
By Rachel Petticrew and Ríona Maguire
Over 2,000 Ukrainians have made Limerick their home in the year since full-scale war arrived on their doorstep.
However, as almost 3,000 Ukrainians seek refuge in Ireland each month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said recently that Ireland is “not in a position to guarantee accommodation” for all those seeking international protection.
Doras CEO John Lannon says the “situation could get worse” and urged the Departments of Children and Housing to invest in vacant units and buildings across the Treaty County to make them “fit to live in.”
“Sadly, we’ve already got lots of people in Limerick who are in emergency accommodation, who are in hotels. It’s unsuitable for any family,” he told Limerick Voice.
Mr Lannon attributed the struggle to house people fleeing Ukraine to a lack of long-term planning.
“The Department of Children, who have been working extremely hard to provide accommodation for refugees…have been operating on a week-by-week or day-to-day basis to respond as people have arrived.
“We now have an over-reliance on the hospitality sector where many of the beds have been provided to people from Ukraine. We’ve been missing a coordinated long-term national planning strategy to provide sustainable accommodations for people.
“We have a lot of vacant and derelict buildings right across the country, including Limerick, and there needs to be better coordination between central government and the local authorities to be able to find ways to bring them into use,” he said.