15 Aug 2022

Fourteen Ukrainians speak about their new life on Tory Island

Ukrainians' new home is on Ireland's most remote island

Fourteen Ukrainians speak about their new life on Tory Island

Fourteen people fled from their war-torn home in Ukraine and made their way across the Wild Atlantic ocean to make their new home on Tory Island. Outside a green island-building, which used to be a hostel, a yellow and blue Ukrainian flag flaps roughly in the wind.

Wanted to help
Inside Oleksandre is chopping onions and a plate of delicious smelling seafood is placed in the centre of the dinner table. Other people mill in and out of the busy home where two families live side by side.
Deirdre Nic Suibhne sits at the side of the table and explains how she was very ill in Letterkenny University Hospital when the war broke out in Ukraine. Lying in ICU, animal lover Deirdre kept telling a nurse she wanted to save the animals in Ukraine.When Deirdre recovered, she and her husband Cathal agreed to bring families from the Ukraine to Tory Island.

Deirdre recalls that on June 17 last, a family of six traveled across the ocean in inclement weather and disembarked on the island pier and much to Deirdre’s delight they had brought their animals with them.“Later the second group followed, the weather was bad here,” she recalled.

Loving Island life

A qualified teacher from the Ukraine, Christine recalls arriving on the island that day but smiles widely as she declares she loves stormy weather.
“I love storms, rain and wind. I really do,” the 32-year-old says.
Everyone in the kitchen laughs, Christine has embraced all the island has to offer. She loves the seals, the puffins, she walks to the lighthouse and loves exploring the island.

They all agree that the contrast between Tory Island and Ukraine is exceptionally different.
“Everything is different, the weather, the food, the people, the language. Everything is a first time for me,” Christine says.
Laura says the country they left was hot. Shivering and laughing, she pulls her grey-woolen jumper closer. Laura owned and managed a business in Ukraine. She owned a shop which sold blinds.
Her daughter Christine says her mother’s shop has since been destroyed.
“It is gone now, everything is gone,” she says.

Harrowing and fearful journey
Those in the kitchen say they had to escape through Crimea as they lived in the eastern region of Ukraine. From there they made their way into Russia and spent one night with relations before making their way to Poland. Lisa says they all were relieved to reach Poland. It was then their journey began in earnest to Ireland where they would be safe. Those in the kitchen agree it is better not being in Ukraine and that many are like them - they too have left their lives, their home, everything behind them to flee from the terror of war. “All of my friends are everywhere. They are just like us. What do I miss about home? Everything.
“I miss my home, I miss the memories. Childhood memories, friends. Everything,” Christine says.
The kitchen door opens and Maria, the youngest of the group, strides in, happily looking for her mother.
Christine smiles: “For now it is not the best place to be. I am glad I am here. I am in the perfect place,” she says.

Tory Island is renowned across the nation for its rich culture and language. The Irish language surrounds them at every corner and in almost every island home and business. The ongoing conversation in the kitchen involves Deirdre speaking Gaeilge, speaking in English to Christine and Oleksandre walking to the table, from time to time, holding up a phone brandishing Google translate.
To date, the families have have had an Irish class. The sentiment from the room is the language has long words but they are eager to learn. Deirdre has become firm friends with both families: “A lot of the time we do not understand each other so we use sign language. They are amazing people who lift your heart. When you come in they are always smiling and happy. They always want to cook for you or to help you. They are incredible people.”

Leaving behind the busy family home, the ocean hits the sea wall. Oleksandre is sitting at a table outside and turns to wave. He might not have the words to express it yet but you know he wishes you well.

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