Ireland’s “friendship and generosity” will never be forgotten in Ukraine, Ukrainian MPs have told the Seanad.
Four MPs addressed the chamber on Tuesday, in what was the first in-person address by members of the Ukrainian parliament to another national parliament anywhere in the world since the war in Ukraine began last February.
Among those in the visitor’s gallery for the speeches by MPs and senators was the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland Larysa Gerasko as well as Anastasia (5) and Yana Semonova, who were previously present in the Dáil for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s address in March.
Alona Shkrum, who was among the cross-party group, said Ukrainians were “inspired” by how Ireland had opened its “hearts and doors” to 35,000 refugees who needed help.
“Ireland’s friendship and generosity will never be forgotten in Ukraine and Ireland has literally set an example of a very high standard of moral leadership for any other country in the world and in particular any other country or nation in Europe to follow,” Ms Shkrum said.
Ms Shkrum said she hoped its candidacy for EU membership would be supported adding “in our opinion the future of a strong European Union depends on this vital decision”.
She said that Ukraine was also inspired by Ireland’s history and strength, “by how you still remained so humane during all of those dark times, because this is difficult for us to do sometimes”.
Ms Shkrum said food was being used as “a weapon” by Russian president Vladimir Putin and that “we should make sure that this is the last time any dictator in the world, any country in the world, uses food as weapons”.
“We cannot allow that to happen,” she said.
Lesia Vasylenko said the Irish nation was doing “more than their fair share of the international effort” to prevent and stop the crime of genocide.
Ms Vasylenko said Ireland “opened its doors” from the very first day of war with visa requirements cancelled, with the majority of the refugees who had arrived here being women and children.
She said Ukraine was grateful for Ireland’s “unwavering support” in terms of its bid for EU candidate status and asked for the State to “minimise doubts” of EU nations that still had them.
Ms Vasylenko said on March 1st she had made the decision to send her three children away, out of Ukraine. She said her youngest daughter had turned one earlier this month and that three months of the first year of her life “were spent without her mother”.
“Today Putin is stealing the childhood of Ukrainian children, Russia is taking away their right to education,” she said.
“Instead of learning math and science, our children are learning the difference between hiding places in case of an artillery attack or an air raid. Instead of picking out prom dresses and partying because of the last hours of school, celebrating graduation, our high school children are taking photos on the ruins of their schools.”
Ms Vasylenko said 288 Ukrainian children had been killed by Russian soldiers with 527 wounded in hospital, “some disabled for life”.
Seanad Cathaoirleach Mark Daly said while Ireland was a neutral country it had not remained neutral to the war in Ukraine. “We must never be neutral in the face of tyranny,” he said.
Meanwhile, a former minister for equality has suggested that Ireland’s support for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion has exposed an “uncomfortable” official prejudice towards “white Christian” children. Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour’s education spokesman, said it was “demonstrably true” that a split has emerged in how the State treats children from Ukraine and refugee children who are neither white nor Christian.
Speaking before an Oireachtas committee on the needs of almost 7,000 Ukrainian children enrolled in Irish schools since the outbreak of the war, Mr Ó Ríordáin insisted support should be universal.