Ukrainians adjust to life in Ireland
Professional ballerina Maya Tsuprenko had just arrived in Ireland to dance with a Russian ballet company on a sold-out tour when bombs were first dropped on the streets of her hometown.
She watched the carnage on TV from a hotel room in Dublin, trapped in a foreign land and unable to return to Kharkiv.
Just last week, his mother, 58, and grandmother, 82, who were recovering from major surgery after a broken back, slept on the floor in the former terminal of the Dublin Airport while waiting to be taken for processing at the Citywest Hotel and Transit Center after an already harrowing journey.
Maya, 27, said her grandmother was angry that she was forced to leave her homeland and said she would rather die in a bomb attack at home than face the arduous journey and the physical and emotional heartbreak of moving to a foreign country, leaving everything she loved behind.
“But my mum loves Ireland. She thinks Ireland is the nicest country in the world,” Maya said.
“They arrived at Dublin Airport on Wednesday evening. There was no room at Citywest [hotel where they were to go to be processed] so they had to go back to the airport. In the old terminal there were offices. Some people slept on chairs, others on tables, others on the floor.
“Some people were there for days but I picked them up the next day at Citywest. I think they did it faster because my grandma was so old and recently had back surgery, so it was hard for her to sit up.”
Maya comes from Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million people in northeastern Ukraine. While his house survived, most of the city center was destroyed and there were Russian soldiers on the streets. She says her family was scared and had no choice but to leave.
The three women now live in the Larkfield student accommodation at Dublin City University. Their original departure deadline of August 6 has been pushed back to August 22 to give refugees a bit more time to find alternative accommodation during a housing crisis.
Maya was offered a teaching job at a ballet school in Dublin in September, so she hopes she can stay within commuting distance. “I’m afraid they’ll say ‘we’ll take you to Galway. They try to do their best but what can they do?
No matter where they go, Maya is grateful that they are now safe unlike other members of her family. Her other grandmother is stuck behind enemy lines near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, and her father is now an army officer in Kharkiv.
“My father has gray hair, more and more every day.
“His mother is in a place near Donetsk currently under Russian occupation.
“Banks don’t work, Russia bombed everything, so I can’t send her money. My father is thinking about how he could come and get her from this horrible place, but it’s very difficult. He is so upset that he is getting older every day.
“My father’s apartment is also saved. But when there was shelling in her neighborhood, it was so close that her window was smashed.
Maya arrived in Ireland the day before Russia invaded her country on February 24. As she watched the horror unfold from Ireland, her Russian colleagues in the ballet company believed Putin’s propaganda, calling him “Ukraine’s great savior” and telling Maya that her country had to be saved from the genocidal fascists.
“I came here under a ballet contract for a two week tour of Ireland with the Royal Moscow Ballet. The shows were sold out. But the first performance was on February 24. Only three dancers were Ukrainian and the director.
“At this first performance, an old man and a woman stood up with a banner saying, ‘Putin, let go of Ukraine.’ I cried on stage. This support meant so much. They didn’t even know we were Ukrainians.
“Most were Russians in this business. It was difficult to work with these people after February 24th.
“Propaganda affects war so much. So many people I’ve danced with and who are dancing right now in Russia believe that. They were our Soviet brothers. Now they are going to kill us in the streets.”
Concerts were canceled and dancers were offered flights to wherever they wanted. Maya had nowhere to go so she stayed in Ireland. For three months she lived in a hotel.
Things have started to look up since she moved into DCU’s student apartment and started volunteering with Ukraine Action, teaching dance and gymnastics to children and adults at the Ukraine Center by Vicar St in Dublin.
“I teach four- or five-year-olds and they’re great. I teach them good stretches and gymnastics. I teach K-Pop dance to teenagers. And adults, women 18+ really love contemporary dance.
“They are really happy to spend time with me. When you dance, you put your whole soul into it. I hope they only think about dancing, not about war, and that makes me happy.”
Upon arrival, Maya’s English was slow and stuffy, she says. But she took language lessons with a “wonderful” Italian called Rose at Traveling Languages in Dublin and her speech is now fluent and confident.
She is immensely grateful to everyone who helped her survive alone in a foreign land at a horribly traumatic time.
“I can’t calculate the future. We will never know it until the end. But when I see new tanks, planes in my country, I see the news is a bit better.
“A lot of people died in the bombs in my town. But Russia is no further ahead.
“In 2014 I worked at the Donetsk Ballet Theatre. It was the coolest theater in Ukraine. The first bomb fell near my apartment. I saw people killing other people on the street. I saw Russians putting on Ukrainian soldiers’ uniforms to kill people. There was propaganda everywhere.
“So when this war started, I called my family, told them to keep calm, prepare stuff and hide.”
Maya said that although she is nervous about where she might be moved to next month, she is grateful that her family is alive and that her mother and grandmother are now with her.
“After this horrible invasion, I don’t care where I live, I only care about my mother and my grandmother,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Civil Society Forum said thousands of Ukrainian refugees; women, children and the vulnerable face uncertainty in the coming weeks as to where they will live, as student accommodation comes to an end.
“We need an interdepartmental response to this impending crisis. We call on the DoH and other government departments, with the support of an implementing agency such as the Housing Agency, to lead on medium to long-term housing,” they said.