Ukrainian-Russian couple living in Ireland: ‘People are sometimes surprised when they ask where we’re from’

Pavel and Nikolay describe Ireland as an ‘accepting place’ and say pressure and uncertainty created by war did not affect their relationship

When Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March 2014, Pavel says he knew he had to leave Moscow as “an act of protest”.

Born in a small town just outside Russia’s capital city, Pavel had trained as a software engineer and recently joined a major Russian company, but immediately began making plans to flee after the “madness” of what had happened in his neighbouring country, Ukraine.

The international community considers the annexation illegitimate and recognises the peninsula, along the northern coast of the Black Sea, as Ukrainian.

“When that happened, I understood I had no future in Russia. I decided I should stop paying taxes there and in 2015 I found a good job offer in Ireland, so I moved here and never went back since,” he says.


Two years later, while working at a small Irish tech start-up, the company hired a Ukrainian software engineer, Nikolay, who soon became Pavel’s partner.

It feels strange to have left Ukraine first and now Ukraine comes right to me. But these are our times

Nikolay was born in Dnipro, a city in central Ukraine, and picked up programming as a hobby as a teenager.

Nikolay “managed to do some contracts here and there” before applying to an Irish company in 2017. “They accepted me which was unexpected and they arranged for me to move here,” he says.

It was “a fortunate accident”, Pavel says of the couple’s meeting, but their relationship is “a sensitive subject” because they are gay, and they remain closeted to friends and family in their home countries.

In a ranking of Europe’s most LGBTQ-friendly nations in 2022′s “Rainbow Europe” index, Russia came third from last, and Ukraine eighth from last, out of 40 countries.

Ireland has been “an accepting place” for Pavel and Nikolay, though in recent months, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, people are “sometimes surprised when they ask where we’re from and we say: ‘I’m from Russia and he’s from Ukraine’,” Pavel says.

“Russia started the war and Ukraine is defending itself. But it doesn’t mean everyone should immediately turn into enemies. There was a lot of pressure and uncertainty created by the war but it didn’t affect our relationship because it’s quite obvious who’s right and who’s wrong in the situation. I don’t think any reasonable person can support Russia.”

It’s “fairly common” for Ukrainians and Russians to be in relationships and while it “may be surprising to people who aren’t from these parts, Ukrainians and Russians have shared families for hundreds of years”, Nikolay adds. “He’s from Russia, but he is not on the side of Russia. If he was, he’d still be there and he’d be a completely different person.”

Lately, there has been “an anti-Russian sentiment” in Ireland, but Pavel says he “won’t complain about it because I find it understandable. It is the people’s fault to some degree because they are voting for Putin and not challenging the propaganda. But it is the West’s fault too. There were chances to prevent this war, and chances to intervene.”

As a Ukrainian, Nikolay believes Ireland’s response to the invasion has been “ultimately insufficient” because it ruled out sending any Irish weapons, despite pleas from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy for more military aid from western countries. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said in March that Ireland was “facilitating” the European Peace Facility which, he noted, was for the first time deploying “lethal weapons” to Ukraine to defend their country against Russian soldiers.

Pavel adds: “There is still trade with Russia and Russian companies are still operating here. It was possible for Ireland to do more.”

However, the couple say the humanitarian support from Ireland had been “outstanding”.

More than 43,000 people have arrived into the State from Ukraine under the temporary protection directive since the invasion began.

Pavel and Nikolay have accepted three people into their home an hour outside Dublin. Three generations of women now live with the couple – a grandmother, mother and her four-year-old daughter.

In the early days of the war, Pavel and Nikolay attended as many protests as possible, but “doing our own small part here in our home feels more important to us right now”, Pavel says.

The Russians will keep going. This kind of rhetoric is mainly just useful for Russia because it sends the message that if they can take a small part from us, then they can take small parts of somewhere else

“I’m happy there are still people protesting. But the little girl, she needs a lot of attention, so we are not going to protests as much now.”

The couple have given up two bedrooms in their three-bedroom house for the family and are not charging them any rent.

“It feels strange to have left Ukraine first and now Ukraine comes right to me. But these are our times,” Nikolay says.

The family have been with them since March. There had been some difficulties finding a suitable family at first as they say some refugees “rejected” the idea of living with a gay couple.

“We asked the volunteers to find us someone who actually likes or wants to live with gay people. They said they knew just the people and they are the ones living with us now,” Nikolay says.

The pair are both critical of a recent letter by Sabina Higgins to The Irish Times calling for peace talks in Ukraine.

“It may sound reasonable that it’s a good idea to try to find some kind of solution which will work for everyone, maybe even by sacrificing some parts of Ukraine. But we should always keep in mind that Russian propaganda openly says it wants a big empire and to restore the Soviet Union or even expand the borders more than before,” Pavel says.

“I think the letter was thinking rationally but Russian authorities are not thinking rationally, they are thinking like insane people.”

Nikolay agrees and believes that Russia “will never follow any sort of peace agreement”.

“The Russians will keep going. This kind of rhetoric is mainly just useful for Russia because it sends the message that if they can take a small part from us, then they can take small parts of somewhere else.”

“The collective West is making a huge mistake by showing any weakness to Putin,” Pavel adds, saying harsher measurements should be introduced and trade should “stop completely”.

Pavel believes the war would end if western troops intervened and that Ireland should reconsider its neutrality and “think about Nato membership as protection”.

“We need to stop this war and not let it slow burn for years and years.”

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times