After fleeing Kyiv with her four-year-old daughter two months ago following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Olha Khoroshevska knows better than most what supports Ukrainian refugees need upon arriving in Ireland for the first time.
Ms Khoroshevska, who had previously lived in Dublin for two years, has thrown herself into volunteering to help other Ukrainians navigate the difficult period that follows arriving in Ireland, particularly for those without English.
On Friday, she is one of several volunteers with the Ukrainian Action in Ireland group helping to set up a community hub in Vicar Street music venue’s storage warehouse due to open shortly.
The centre has eight tents where different support services will be provided, such as English language classes, guidance on how to access State services, as well as a play area for children.
The plan is for the space to serve as a meeting spot for Ukrainians, with a dozen picnic tables set out on the floor of the large warehouse and a coffee dock donated by Bewleys cafe.
The building was previously used to store equipment for the adjoining music venue, but has been cleared out to accommodate the community space.
Harry Crosbie, Vicar Street owner, said artists had agreed to have the gear stored off-site in temporary containers and offer the warehouse to the Irish Red Cross and Ukrainian volunteers.
“The staff and all the artists who perform here have all come together, we just felt we had to make some tiny contribution because what’s happening is shocking,” he said.
The warehouse is located beside the music venue with a large Red Cross sign marking the entrance.
Ms Khoroshevska said for most Ukrainians arriving in Ireland the lack of English “is question number one to be solved.
“I have no job for now as my daughter is very small and it is really difficult in Ireland to have after-school and I am the only parent and she needs lots of my attention,” she said. “I know volunteering helps me a lot because I am helping other people.”
Back in Kyiv
Ms Khoroshevska fled Kyiv with her daughter in mid-March, making a three-day journey to Lviv where they stayed for a week before travelling to Slovakia and then to Ireland.
Her daughter, who will be five years old in two weeks, misses her father “very much”, as he remained in Kyiv, she said.
The young child “loves Dublin” but even in Ireland there are reminders of the conflict in Ukraine, such as when she hears a helicopter overhead, her mother said. “The only thing she is still scared [of] is helicopters, every time she is asking ‘are they good, are they protecting us?’ And I say, ‘yes’,” said Ms Khoroshevska.
Ielizaveta Karamushka, another Ukrainian volunteer who has lived in Dublin for nearly nine years, said she hoped the Vicar Street site became a “cultural space” for the Ukrainian community.
The group wanted to offer a “safe space” where new Ukrainians in Ireland could come to socialise and be helped integrate into Irish society, she said.
“We want to maybe one day or two days a week make this into some sort of cultural space where Ukrainians can actually show part of their culture to other Irish people,” she said.
“We are a big country. It is not only about the war, or at least we want to make it not only about the war, because there is a lot to show,” she said.