Community rallies to help Ukrainian refugees: ‘We realised we could do more together than apart’

Geashill in Co Offaly fundraised €50,000 to buy mobile homes for three families

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the people living in the small village of Geashill, Co Offaly wanted to do everything they could to help.

Realising many would be unable to take refugees into their own homes due to the remoteness of their properties, they organised a meeting to brainstorm other ways in which they could offer assistance.

The local community, of just under 400 people, according to the 2016 Census, decided they could do more together than as individuals.

They decided to fundraise to buy three three-bedroomed mobile homes, which they placed on land volunteered by another local, to house three Ukrainian families.


Breege Loftus, chairwoman of the community committee, said the community decided to house three families because they felt the village could absorb and help the integration of that number.

“We needed them to have each other to support each other because we wouldn’t fully understand what they were going through, and with the language barrier it could be very isolating if it was just one family,” she said.

The community fundraised and accumulated €50,000, which she said was “amazing”.

“The people were unbelievably generous and kind. Most people wanted to do something, they wanted to help. And they did. In every way, whether it was donations or helping out,” she said.

“The next stage was actually getting the site together. We had to prepare the groundworks, so that meant the storage, the electricity. Almost all of the workmen worked for nothing and some of them worked very, very long hours.”

Finding families to fill the homes was the most difficult part, she said. Going through official channels proved to be a long and arduous process.

Eventually the community found three families through an organisation called Helping Irish Hosts. The families have been living in the homes since the end of the summer.

“It was the biggest eye opener to see how hard it is to build your life again when you’ve lost everything. Small things matter,” said Loftus.

“When they said goodbye, they thought they were going home in two or three months. But the time takes a toll on them. Now they don’t know when they’ll see their families. Sometimes I suppose people expect them to be happy and grateful for what they’ve got, but sometimes people forget what it is they’ve lost.”

Despite these challenges, the women who arrived are really integrating into the local community, she said.

Vira Mischenko, a mother of two living in one of the mobile homes, said when she first moved to the country it was very difficult. Her youngest child was two months old at the time.

She had to move between houses every three months and was sad and lonely about the life she left behind.

“I never thought I would live in Ireland. All I knew about Ireland was sheep, leprechauns and Conor McGregor. But now I live here for eight months,” she says.

“When I arrived, I was very stressed, I always cried because it was very difficult for me. But now I like Ireland, I like living in Geashill, I like living in mobile homes.”

Her eldest son, who is nine, attends the local school. She minds her youngest child and has made friends in the local community.

“I have many friends in Ireland now because they are very good people. We go and drink coffee, we go to the forest,” she added.

Tetiana Pokotylo is another mother living in the homes with her two children. The journey to Geashill was a “difficult road”, but now she said: “Everything is good, the kids are very happy”.

“Everyone smiles and says ‘if you need help give us a shout’,” she added, laughing.

Madeline Campbell, a spokeswoman for We Act, a campaign that seeks to highlight the good work of charitable organisations, said communities and volunteers come together during times of difficulty.

“Amid the conflict in Ukraine and crises all over the world, we see people, communities and organisations across the country reaching out and supporting in whatever way they can,” she said.

“Although this work is most visible during times of acute crisis, that’s just one part of it. Every day, no matter what, people dedicate their time to others.”