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‘I love the Irish tradition of saying thank you to a bus driver’

New to the Parish: Olha Khoroshevska arrived from Ukraine in 2022

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, Olha Khoroshevska did not know how to explain the situation to her daughter, Diana, who was four at the time.

Having shown her Harry Potter a few weeks previously, she decided the films could be helpful in explaining the violence that was occurring around them.

“So when the war started, we told her that unfortunately Voldemort had come back and that our army was the good army and they would fight Voldemort, who is a bad guy,” she says.

“Now she understands what’s going on. Because we watch the news. Everyone around is talking about it.”

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Originally from the Kirovograd region in Central Ukraine, Khoroshevska lived in Kyiv for the past 20 years, having moved there to study at university. Pre-war life in Ukraine was, Khoroshevska says, like any other European country.

“Of course, we had some flashbacks to the USSR, but still it was a modern country with different services, wonderful restaurants with cuisines from all over the world. We were living regular European lives,” she says.

That all changed after the Russian invasion. Suddenly, there was violence, fear and the never-ending threat of shelling.

As a result, Khoroshevska fled her home in Kyiv in early March as the war breaking out around her. She travelled “a long time” to western Ukraine, before arriving in Slovakia and taking a plane to Ireland.

She chose Ireland as the country in which she would seek asylum as she had fallen in love with it a few years earlier, having lived here for two years.

In 2019, she moved to the State with her daughter and her husband at the time, after he got a job at a Dublin IT company.

They returned to Ukraine in 2021, as they had spent much of their time in Ireland living through Covid lockdowns and they wanted to return to a so-called normal life.

But Khoroshevska fell in love with Ireland over those two years. She has friends here, and understands how the country works, so making the decision to return an easy one.

“I knew this country, I love this country. I know how to build my life here, that’s why I came back here

—  Olha Khoroshevska

“I came to [live with] my friends. I refused accommodation from the Government because I have friends here who are Ukrainian,” she says.

“They decided I could stay with them with my daughter for as long as I needed. I thought it was better to stay with them and leave the space for someone else to come who has no friends or relatives here.”

Knowing there would be support here was why she chose Ireland, she says.

“I knew this country, I love this country. I know how to build my life here, that’s why I came back here, because we all need some support. It would be much easier for me to come here than to go somewhere else like Spain or Germany or any other country.”

This ease in integrating, she says, is a direct result of the people she has been able to get to know.

“I think Ukrainians and the Irish have much more in common in mentality, because we have a lot in common in history: famine and aggressive neighbours,” she says.

“We’ve been through the same historical processes. Also, we like to laugh, we like to make jokes, we like to celebrate with singsongs.”

She knew a little about Irish history before moving here, but knew nothing about the modern country, she says.

We are doing really important work because we’re helping Ukrainian refugees integrate into Irish society. Many of them don’t know English. Without English, they can’t get a job

—  Olha Khoroshevska

“But then I started engaging. They are very welcoming, nice and cheerful. Even the small talk that you can have while you’re waiting for a bus,” she adds.

“Or the tradition to say thank you to a bus driver. We also have such traditions in Ukraine. It was great to see that people have this strong sense of community.”

That sense of community is something Khoroshevska is keen to foster. She currently works for the Irish Red Cross as a project manager for the Ukrainian community centre in Rathmines, Dublin.

“I have a great team. We are doing really important work because we’re helping Ukrainian refugees integrate into Irish society. Many of them don’t know English. Without English, they can’t get a job; without a job, they will have to stay on social welfare,” she says.

“We want them to be a part of society. Not just use facilities and everything that Ireland offers but to be a part of society, to go to work, to get education if they need it, to be useful to this country, to say thank you.”

Despite building a life for herself in Dublin, the impact of the war is still strongly felt. Kushnekova has many friends and family members living in her home country and she worries about their safety every day.

The Ukraine army frees one more city or village in Ukraine, we all celebrate. But we understand it isn’t even the middle of the war, because Russia doesn’t seem to stop

—  Olha Khoroshevska

“Every morning, you go to different messengers to say good morning, to check and see if everyone is alive,” she says.

“You can see most of the messages, how long ago the person was online. It helps. If you see someone was online not so long ago, you know they’re probably fine.”

In the first few months of her arrival, she threw herself into volunteering as a way to distract herself from her worries.

“I was volunteering a lot, like really a lot, which was not very healthy. But it helps, because if you have somebody you don’t have to think about yourself. I went back to a counsellor and she supports me a lot. Of course, my friends and family and the possibility to communicate with them, it helps a lot.

She loves Ireland, she says, and the life she is building here. But that does not help with the questions she has about her future.

“The Ukraine army frees one more city or village in Ukraine, we all celebrate. But we understand it isn’t even the middle of the war, because Russia doesn’t seem to stop,” she says.

“I’m trying to build my life here and now and hope the war will be finished soon. It’s not a thing that should be going on in the 21st century.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com or tweet @newtotheparish.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times