by Eilin Teeling AMMM Ireland 08.09.2023
At dinner time, when Anya allowed me to serve her some vegetables, I knew finally my husband and I were accepted. When she, her mother Olga, and her sister, eight-year-old Khrystyna arrived in our home in October 2021, she hid behind her mother’s legs and wouldn’t look at us. I don’t know how her mother explained to this five-year-old child why she and her family needed to leave their home in Kyiv, Ukraine. They chose Ireland because a friend recommended it, but otherwise how do you choose where to go, when your country has been invaded by another?
My husband and I felt compelled to help when Russians invaded Ukraine in February 2022. What is our faith if we cannot reach out and help others? “I was a stranger and you welcomed me… “just as you did it to one of the least of the members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25: 35, 40). Yes, but having strangers living in our house? It seemed like a huge step. What are strangers but people just like us?
We started to think of people seeking refuge rather than the colder term “refugees,” and reading other blogs on the MMM website about people seeking refuge helped us. We understood legally in the EU that Ukrainian people were granted automatic international protection, and so were free to live with families.
We took the leap of faith, said “yes.” We registered our interest with the Irish Red Cross and waited, undertook Garda vetting, and waited. We were frustrated with waiting for official channels to link us with a family. God provides solutions when we pray so when a friend asked if we would consider taking a family she knew, we said yes. A voluntary organisation “Helping Irish Hosts” arranged paperwork, and finally in October 2022, the family arrived in our home in Drogheda.
Who knows who was more nervous, us or them? What are we to say to them? How do we deal with their trauma? What happens if we don’t get on? Well, one day at a time dear Jesus, as the old song says. We kept busy with the practicalities, bedrooms, bathroom, towels, kitchen cupboards, food, cooking dinners. We ate Ukrainian food: borscht (beetroot soup), varenyky (dumplings), syrniki (Ukrainian cottage cheese pancakes), and Olivye (Russian salad). We taught Olga how to roast a chicken, make omelette, and oven roast vegetables.
Gradually we got to know each other. The children went to school and did their homework at the kitchen table just as our children did. We bought skipping ropes for Christmas and they learned to skip in our kitchen. When Anya was sick, I helped get her a GP appointment. When Olga’s friend’s child was sick, I phoned on her behalf and got her help. The priority was to be consistent in communication and use Google Translate when necessary. We ate Ukrainian food on Christmas Eve and Irish food on Christmas Day. They don’t go well together! We exchanged presents at Christmas and birthdays, conscious that they are not home.
My husband loves joking or “messing” with children: hiding a toy, moving things, pretending to cry, dancing to music. At first, when he tried to “mess”, he was met with blank stares. As time went on, the children learned to relax and then they started to laugh at him.
We were constantly aware that they were in our home though and sometimes it was hard. We needed to keep looking after ourselves and be patient. They visited Kyiv at Easter and decided then they would return there in June. The last few weeks were busy for Olga, packing, and sending parcels to Kyiv. It was an emotional time, glad for them, but happy to have our space again.
They left in June 2023, eight months after arriving. They have returned to Kyiv in the hope they can stay. That is where home is, with grandparents and friends. Ukraine, and all war zones, need our prayers.