We took in four Ukrainians last week. I hesitate to call them refugees because in many people’s minds this paints a picture of starving, destitute people dressed in rags.
Here are two cousins in their thirties who worked as hairdressers and beauticians before the Russian invasion. One has 15 year old twins. All of them would fit seamlessly into any Irish crowd.
It all happened very suddenly. My mother had texted me the week before and asked if we would be willing to take in refugees. I spoke to her about it and we made up our minds within about a minute.
We live in a farmhouse with many guest rooms and it would have been criminal to say no.
We can afford the extra food, heating and everything else needed to provide a safe haven for people fleeing war.
But… As the days passed after that first text, I played through the different scenarios that we could volunteer for.
What if they’re so traumatized that they’re unstable, everywhere, and desperate?
Me and she are at work at least five days a week from 8am to 6pm.
What if they rob the place while we’re gone? Break the joint? Invite all her buddies over for a vodka-infused session honoring the old turf?
A Russian I know didn’t help calm me down.
“Jesus, Darragh, be very careful. These Ukrainians are different. Not good people,” they warned me with deadly seriousness.
This Russian has Ukrainian cousins, has lived in Ireland for 20 years and has a successful business here. So they certainly had a reasonably balanced view of the big picture. What was I getting myself into?
When the call finally came last week that our Ukrainians would be boarding an overnight flight to Dublin, I drove to the airport with some trepidation.
Upon arrival, I was escorted to the old terminal building, where officials from various government departments worked under the lights to process paperwork for families who poured through the double doors with their large, heavy suitcases every few minutes.
To one side stood a little boy, who couldn’t have been more than four years old, squeezing his mother’s arm.
My Ukrainian doesn’t exist, but I suspect his requests were the age-old question: “Can we go home now?”
After initial hellos, not much was said. Our party of four was packed into the car along with their bags for a quiet drive through the night back to the farm.
My instinct was that they were just as worried as I was about how the next few hours, days, and weeks would go. In addition, after two weeks, 4,000 km of drivingthey were broken and just needed sleep.
Just a few days later, I heard from her that they thought one of the bedrooms we were offering was “too special” to stay in, so they doubled the rest of the rooms.
And that reaction exemplifies the experience since. They do their best to minimize any intrusion into our lives by making themselves invisible most of the time.
We shared meals and chatted about ordinary things through amazing voice recognition translation apps on the phones.
There were a few laughs and a bit of table tennis and plenty of offers for English lessons, rides and money from friends and family.
Their PPS numbers are due every day, giving them instant access to unemployment benefits and child support.
There have been a number of applications to hair and beauty salons in the area.
And as with many things, all of our fears of the unknown have proven to be completely overblown.
We are fortunate to have a home that can help people make a fresh start. It feels pretty good.
Darragh McCullough runs a mixed farm in Meath, elmgrovefarm.ie
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/comment/darragh-mccullough-i-was-warned-off-taking-in-ukrainians-but-they-have-been-a-joy-41513587.html Darragh McCullough: I was warned not to host Ukrainians, but it was a pleasure