We know that across Europe more than seven million refugees have been registered from Ukraine and around eight million people have been internally displaced.
One day we will find out how many people died there. Until then, those who left will watch and wait, not knowing if they can return and what will be in store for them when they do.
We live in a changed Europe. The daily news is a wake-up call, a reminder of how quickly a normal, democratic, boring life can collapse. We hold our loved ones tight and pray to God that if we ever need refuge, we never have to find out who might take us.
But we can take comfort in the fact that Ireland’s commitment to Ukraine is something we can all be proud of. So far, 48,700 people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine have arrived in Ireland.
One of my favorite childhood books followed the four Pevensie children who were evacuated from London to a country mansion retreat during the Blitz. There they find a magical wardrobe that leads them to Narnia.
Another was that of Judith Kerr When Hitler stole the pink rabbit. Anna’s father, a Jewish writer, is wanted by the Nazis, dead or alive. She escapes with her parents and brother and they become wandering refugees in Switzerland, France and Britain.
How I loved those books and how heartwarming it was to see our country reaching out to Ukrainian refugees in a way we shamefully failed to do during WWII and in every conflict since.
Ireland’s warm welcome to Ukrainian refugees has been exemplary and stands above the country’s efforts to help thousands who have fled other war-torn countries over the past decade.
We can only guess how many more Ukrainians will come or how long they will have to stay. One in six Ukrainian refugees currently in Ireland had their homes destroyed by Russian forces, according to a summer survey.
With martial law banning Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country, the vast majority of refugees here in Ireland are daughters and wives, forced to separate from fathers and husbands. They are mothers and children fleeing despair and death. They seek the security of our government-provided shelters and end up in reception centers, shelters, hotels and lodges of varying quality and suitability.
Coming to Ireland is an act of survival. It is also a deep disruption in her life. We also tend to forget that every refugee’s story is different – that each of them leaves behind their closest friends, their family, their most prized possessions. Now they face the uncertainty that comes with a lost life.
But there is a negativity that creeps into the Irish response. Last week in Kerry, a group of councilors voted to write to Taoiseach Micheál Martin about the refugees who have now settled there. They are concerned that the pressure on already-scarce services combined with the cost-of-living crisis has fueled resentment among locals.
Another story told us about 80 Ukrainian refugees living in Laois who were informed less than 48 hours in advance that they had to move 50 km.
Then the Gormanston military camp in Co Meath will be closed from next month and about 800 extra beds will be needed for Ukrainian refugees every week.
The number of other people seeking international protection in Ireland has also increased.
For too long we have left it to other people to deal with the influx of people into Europe. Sure, someone would sort it out, we assumed. Should we have done more than we suspect? Well, now we can. Ordinary Irish people have offered houses and support of a very practical nature.
But a refugee crisis does not simply end with placing vulnerable people in overcrowded camps or even family homes. And when conflicts continue and global priorities shift, even the most sympathetic communities can lose their enthusiasm.
This country has problems. Overcrowded hospitals, housing shortages, cost of living crisis. Three thousand of us marched through Dublin city center on Saturday to protest rising inflation. These are tough times and they will get much tougher.
In their national anthem, Ukrainians sing: “We will not spare our souls or our bodies to gain freedom.” We have seen Ukrainian fighters wage the fight of their lives for their homeland against a revanchist dictatorship bent on its annihilation is. Ukraine’s resilience and sacrifice helped bring out the best in us.
At least for now.
Despite the government’s often chaotic handling of Ukrainian refugees, Ireland is still not full. This incredible story of open borders, open hearts and open homes must not end. There are many who still need the refuge of Ireland’s refuge.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/ukraines-resilience-has-brought-out-the-best-in-us-we-must-not-lose-the-faith-now-42018862.html Ukraine’s resilience brought out the best in us. We must not lose faith now