Ukrainian mother fears enforced move to Co Cork will be ‘devastating’ for autistic son

Move on Monday from Dublin could cause Yehor, aged 10, to regress after settling in school, mother says

A woman who is among some Ukrainian 200 refugees being moved on Monday from a Dublin hotel to other accommodation in Cork, Limerick and Donegal fears the move will be “devastating” for her autistic son.

Oksana Kopernyk and her sons Milan, aged three, and Yehor, aged 10, who is autistic, have been in the Ibis Hotel in Clondalkin since April after fleeing their home in Dnipro, eastern Ukraine. Her husband and mother remained and their building was damaged by shelling last weekend.

The hotel residents learned in mid-November they would be moved to unspecified locations to make way for international protection applicants.

Last week, they received letters on behalf of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Inclusion and Young People, informing them they will be moved this week to alternative accommodation in Cork, Donegal and Limerick.

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Ms Kopernyk and her family are to be moved on Monday to accommodation at the Trabolgan holiday centre in Co Cork.

The letters referred to an acute shortage of affordable housing here and said it was not possible to facilitate requests to accommodate temporary protection beneficiaries in a location/accommodation of their choice, except for specific medical and disability reasons confirmed by the Health Service Executive.

Ms Kopernyk said that when Yehor came to Ireland first he was “very distressed”, unable to socialise with other children and isolated at the hotel.

When he joined St Joseph’s national school in Clondalkin, it was difficult at first, he had frequent meltdowns and found it difficult to communicate with new people and with a new language, she said.

“The staff at the school really helped him and he made great progress. It has taken a long time, but now he is used to the staff at the school and he has even been able to be integrated into mainstream classes for certain parts of the day. For Yehor, the school is a home. It is so important for him to have a familiar and secure environment.”

In a letter of November 17th expressing support for the family remaining in the Clondalkin area, the school principal, Brian Coulston, said Yehor had really settled into the school life and was receiving great support and resources there.

“With everything that has happened to them in recent times, we really feel that it is important that they have stability and feel part of a community.”

Ms Kopernyk said that if they move, she knows Yehor will be extremely distressed, will regress and it will be very difficult for him to readjust to a new situation.

“Yehor will lose the gains he has made at school. I have been so happy with his progress and I would be devastated for Yehor to have to start over again.”

Yehor has made some friends among children who are similar to him in his school and this has given him “a sense of belonging”. “It would be heartbreaking for him to lose those friends and supporters.”

Yehor has secured a place on a HSE waiting list for a full psychological assessment. “I know he could stay on the list even if we were in Trabolgan, but then we would have to access services on public transport over long distances. Yehor cannot manage public transport.”

She would love to remain in the hotel for a few more weeks while she continues a difficult search for other accommodation in the area or within commuting distance to the school. “My main priority is for Yehor to remain at his school. This is the most important thing for us.”

Bríd Higgins Ní Chinnéide, who met Ms Kopernyk and her children at a get together at their local GAA club, is actively supporting the family’s efforts to remain in Clondalkin.

Herself a parent of autistic children, she is particularly aware that a move like this “could be detrimental for a family such as Oksana’s”.

“I believe that the State has a duty of care for Yehor and that he should be treated humanely and allowed stay in his current school, where he has found a second home after being forced to leave Ukraine,” she said.

Larry O’Neill, chief executive of the South Dublin County Partnership, which has supported the Ukrainians since they arrived in the Clondalkin hotel, said they are very grateful for all that Ireland has done for them but are very distressed about the upcoming move, particularly about the impact on the children.

A small number of the residents have managed to get pledged accommodation in the area.

Mr O’Neill said he absolutely understood the difficulties facing the Government in the matter but believed this situation could be handled better by, for example, leaving the Ukrainians in the hotel and placing the international protection applicants at the other locations.

Some hotels in the country will not take international protection applicants. “That is racism” and those hotels should not be getting State grants, he added.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times