Fleeing Ukrainians find refuge in medieval Irish castle

Within a day, Haughian was on a plane to Poland, having created a Facebook account for the first time to offer sanctuary. Eleven Ukrainians – one group from Dnipro and another from Zaporozhye near Mariupol – returned with him to Ballindooley Castle.

“We were emotional wrecks for probably over a week. We weren’t sure what we were doing and we were just trying to make things better for them,” said Haughian, who is staying at the four-story castle with his wife and two teenagers.

“So now every week it gets better… You can see the weight coming off their shoulders. We have people coming all the time to try to help them. It’s a real ‘céad míle fáilte’ (one hundred thousand welcomes) from the Irish people.

The eleven are among the 23,000 Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in Ireland so far. The government expects that number could quadruple – equivalent to 2% of the population – and will soon have to house them in conference centers or sports halls.

A month after their arrival, five members of the group found a job. Their children are settled in to school and play on the half-acre estate with the local children, whose families constantly bring everything from spare refrigerators, televisions and bags of grass to baskets of fresh eggs for Maria Nazarchuk, the group’s passionate baker.

The 20-year-old, who remembers the sound of bombs and rockets before embarking on the three-day, 28-hour journey of waiting at the Polish border to escape the Russian invasion, works in a garden center near of the castle.

An accounting student, she traveled with her mother but left behind two brothers, a sister and her grandmother in the eastern city of Dnipro. She hopes to continue her studies at the National University of Galway in September.

“When we went to another country, I cried because it was very fast. I plan my actions, what I do with friends, with my family, with the university, and one day I don’t have a plane,” she said.

“Irish people are very friendly, very kind. All people want to help us. I (am) very happy here. I have a good job, a good house. I never thought that one day I would live in a castle.

(Writing by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

Edward K. Thompson