By Clodagh Kilcoyne
GALWAY, Ireland – When Irishman Barry Haughian and his Spanish wife Lola watched Ukrainians flee their homes but had no space to help in their house in Madrid, they decided to offer up their second home instead – a 15th century castle in the west of Ireland.
Within a day Haughian was on a plane to Poland, having set up a Facebook account for the first time to offer refuge. Eleven Ukrainians – one group from Dnipro and another from Zaporozhye near Mariupol – returned with him to Ballindooley Castle.
“We were emotional wrecks for probably more than a week. We weren’t sure what we were doing, and just trying to make things better for them,” said Haughian, who is staying in the four storey castle with his wife and two teenage children.
“So now, every week it gets better… You can see the weight coming off their shoulders. We’ve got people dropping in all the time trying to help them. It’s a real ‘céad míle fáilte’ (a hundred thousand welcomes) from the people of Ireland.”
The eleven are among 23,000 Ukrainian refugees who have so far arrived in Ireland. The government expects that number could quadruple – equivalent to two percent of the population – and to soon have to house them in conference centres or sports halls.
A month after their arrival, five of the group have found jobs. Their children are settled in school and play on the half acre estate with local kids, whose families constantly drop in everything from spare fridges, televisions and bags of turf to baskets of fresh eggs for Maria Nazarchuk, the keen baker of the group.
The 20-year-old, who recalls the sound of bombs and rockets before embarking on the three-day journey and 28 hour wait at the Polish border to escape the Russian invasion, is working in a garden centre near the castle.
An accountancy student, she travelled with her mother but left two brothers, a sister and her grandmother behind in the eastern city of Dnipro. She hopes to continue her studies in the National University of Galway in September.
“When we are going to go to another country, I cried because it was very fast. I plan my actions, what I do with friends, with family, with university, and one day I have no plan,” she said.
“Irish people are very friendly, very kind. All the people want to help us. I (am) very happy here. I have a good job, a good home. I never thought that someday I will live in a castle.”