Irish Ambassador to Ukraine Therese Healy: ‘Every single Ukrainian person I’ve met has thanked us for helping’

Healy opened the Irish Embassy in Kyiv in June 2021 and has since faced a pandemic and a major war, but she has no regrets

Few diplomats face a pandemic and a major war during their entire careers, let alone in a single posting, but Therese Healy has no regrets about being the first resident Irish Ambassador to Ukraine.

“It’s not a usual posting. You do have to sacrifice some element of normality,” Healy says in the cafe of a hotel that has a bomb shelter in the basement in case air-raid sirens sound, as they still do on most days in Kyiv, despite the city now having powerful western-supplied air-defence systems.

“A week ago, we had another missile and drone attack... there were fatalities and injuries when a residential block was hit. That’s the reality of it,” says Healy, a native of Bweeng in Co Cork who previously served in Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow and Shanghai.

Healy opened the Irish Embassy in Kyiv in June 2021 when Ukraine was sometimes registering more than 2,000 new Covid-19 cases in a day, and then watched from close quarters as global concern grew over Russia’s military build-up near the borders of its pro-western neighbour.


When the Kremlin poured troops, tanks, missile systems and attack aircraft into Ukraine early on February 24th, 2022, Healy evacuated along with most other western diplomats, before returning full-time to reopen the embassy six months later.

In the interim, she accompanied then minister for foreign affairs Simon Coveney to the town of Bucha outside Kyiv, just a few weeks after the expulsion of Russian troops who had killed hundreds of civilians during a month-long occupation. Then, in July 2022, she travelled with Micheál Martin on the first visit by a taoiseach to Ukraine.

Coveney had officially opened the embassy in 2021 and returned again in September 2022 to tour the major Black Sea port of Odesa, while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited Kyiv last July to meet Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Healy says such wartime visits “send a powerful message about our priority towards Ukraine and show real solidarity … Any ray of hope, any sense of the international community coming and showing they are deeply concerned is really picked up on by Ukrainians”.

The country stunned the Kremlin and the world first by driving Russia’s invasion force away from Kyiv and areas near the northern border, and then by liberating its eastern Kharkiv region and the southern city of Kherson in a string of victories in 2022.

A counteroffensive in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region failed last summer, however, and though Ukraine is successfully striking targets with aerial and marine drones in occupied territory and in Russia itself, its troops are under heavy pressure in the east, due partly to the refusal of Republicans in the US Congress to approve more military aid.

Healy describes the mood in Kyiv as “sombre but determined”, and notes that Russia’s aggression actually began a decade ago, when it responded to Ukraine’s pro-western Maidan revolution by annexing Crimea and creating an armed militia that seized parts of the eastern Donbas area.

“There is no sense of self-pity. The attitude is that ‘we must and we will win the war, and we will do this for as long as necessary, because the alternative is unthinkable,’” Healy says. “This is a brutal war in which the enemy is fighting with very different rules, or no rules.”

Ireland has pledged to help Ukraine achieve justice for victims of Russian war crimes and has joined a coalition of more than 25 countries to press for the return home of thousands of Ukrainian children who have been transferred illegally to Russia.

Healy says Ireland is also a strong supporter of Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union, and it was granted official candidate status in June 2022 and given the green light to start membership talks last December.

“There is a sense here of the EU being that home that they can look forward to and aspire to. But they are realistic,” Healy says. “The pathway to EU accession is clear but rigorous work needs to be done. And that will come.”

A pre-war Irish community in Ukraine of about 300 has dwindled to about 45, with most of its members working for EU or United Nations agencies in Kyiv. Irish building supplies giants Kingspan and CRH continue to operate in Ukraine, as do several smaller firms, particularly in agriculture, which Healy says are “doing very well”.

Martin told Dáil Éireann last month that since February 2022, Ireland had provided Ukraine with “over €90 million in stabilisation and humanitarian funding and commitments of approximately €122 million in non-lethal military assistance under the European Peace Facility”.

Ireland’s biggest contribution has probably been taking in more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, for which Zelenskiy expressed deep thanks to the Irish people when Varadkar visited Kyiv last July.

“Every single Ukrainian person I’ve met has thanked us for helping,” Healy says, explaining how the knowledge that loved ones are safe somewhere like Ireland “takes a huge amount of pressure off soldiers at the front so they can focus on their tasks, and off civilians trying to make sure everything can run smoothly”.

Healy expects to return to Dublin when her successor arrives in Kyiv later this year, and to miss what she calls “a great country with great people”.

“I’ve had many postings that I’ve found hard to leave, and this one even more so,” she says. “There is something about being here, and seeing such courage and a lot of modesty and entrepreneurial spirit, which I really admire. I want to see Ukrainians when they can be more lighthearted, and see them as EU member state citizens and what that extra layer of security will mean to them, and to see what they will contribute to the EU.”

Healy is convinced that Ireland benefits from having a diplomatic presence in Ukraine “at a pivotal time in history” which is “not just about the relationship between Ukraine and Russia but about how this will impact the rest of world and issues like food security, cyber security” and many others.

“I’m so glad we opened the embassy when we did, and I’m so appreciative of what Irish citizens have done,” Healy says. “The Irish people have been so generous to Ukrainians at home – all that solidarity has been great.”

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