State officials remain in contact with 94 Irish citizens in Ukraine

Helen McEntee defends timing of Government’s visa waiver for Ukrainian citizens

The Department of Foreign Affairs remains in contact with 94 registered Irish citizens in Ukraine as the Government urged them only to attempt to leave the country if it was safe to do so.

As fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces entered its fourth day, the department said that its capacity to provide consular assistance to citizens was “extremely limited”.

Irish diplomats have left Ukraine and the embassy in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv is no longer occupied, operating instead on a remote basis from Dublin.

The department said it remained "in direct and ongoing contact with Irish citizens in Ukraine who have registered with the Embassy of Ireland in Kyiv, currently totalling around 94".

A spokeswoman said the “safety and security of Irish citizens and their dependents in Ukraine is our priority”.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Government had waived visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens wishing to travel to Ireland to make it “as easy as possible” for Irish citizens with Ukrainian family members accompanying them.

Visa waiver

“We have to be clear here – there are no planes flying into Ukraine. There is no ability for us to get into Ukraine,” she said. “What we can do is encourage people, where it is safe to do so, to travel to the borders and try and find shelter. We will continue to engage even though we don’t have a consulate or an embassy on the ground.”

The Minister defended the Government’s decision to issue the visa waiver on Friday but not earlier while commercial airlines were still flying out of Ukraine.

“A lot of people hoped that this would never happen. Unfortunately, it has and we have to react. That is why we reached very quickly in making sure that the visa requirements was waived,” she told RTÉ’s This Week programme.

Ms McEntee said the Government would keep "under review" the possibility of Irish diplomats or Defence Forces members travelling to Poland to help people crossing from Ukraine.

The Government was making available €10 million in humanitarian assistance to help hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the fighting in Ukraine and crossing into Poland, Romania and other EU member states.

There have been growing calls for the Government to expel Russian ambassador to Ireland Yuriy Filatov over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Ms McEntee said that "nothing was off the table" on potential further sanctions.

But she warned that the expulsion of Russia's ambassador could result in a retaliatory closure of the Irish Embassy in Moscow and "a complete breakdown of diplomatic relations".

Surrogate mothers

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the coming weeks. We need to make sure that we can support our Irish citizens,” she said.

She said she understood people’s “upset” but there were other factors to be considered. EU member states were looking at the possibility of expelling other diplomatic figures, she said.

Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery Kearney, who is helping Irish couples awaiting babies being born to surrogate mothers in Ukraine, said that parents were concerned about Mr Filatov's expulsion.

“I have a little bit of mixed emotions. I would quite happily march him to the airport myself but on the other hand, we need to have some channel of dialogue,” she told The Irish Times. “I have parents ringing me saying: ‘Please don’t expel him – we may need to talk to them about getting our babies out’.”