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Polina meets Ukrainians who have built lives and businesses in Ireland since the war began. Polina Bashkina
two year annivesrary

'Ireland has become a second home for me': Ukrainians building careers in Ireland

Polina Bashkina meets Ukrainians who have built careers and businesses in Ireland since the war began two years ago today.

IRELAND HAS BECOME home to over 100,000 Ukrainians since Putin launched his horrendous war on our home country two years ago today. It only feels like yesterday the world watched while millions of people fled over the borders, fearing the worst would come. The worst has since been and stayed in Ukraine and many have lost family, neighbours and friends. The heartbreak that came with it is hard to explain or comprehend.

Today is a tough day for us as we remember, wonder and worry about what happens next. Many of our loved ones are still there, on the front line of the fighting or clinging on to some semblance of normality while fighting rages on. 

Because of the day that’s in it, I felt it might be time to focus on the positive stories around Ukrainian people in Ireland as some of us are lucky enough to have found peace and protection in this country. 

Around 30 percent of Ukrainian adults in Ireland are employed, according to the Department of Social Protection Secretary General, John McKeon recently. He said that three-quarters of the refugees are women and children, adding: “You’ve got women living in hotel rooms in the west of Ireland, three to a room, a woman and two children, who have child care responsibilities and so on. The employment rate of 30 per cent is extraordinarily high for people in that situation.”

5,500 Ukrainians work in the hospitality sector, just under 3,000 in retail, 2,000 in manufacturing, just over 1,500 in support sectors and 1,000 in construction. However, some people remain unemployed, mostly because of constraints around housing conditions and the need to care for young children.

Streamlining qualifications

There is also an “invisible” barrier for some Ukrainians, associated with the fact that skilled workers may not be entitled to take similar positions in Ireland. For example, highly qualified doctors from Ukraine in Ireland work at best as technical specialists (not as nurses or doctors ) in hospitals. The system for assessing credentials from another country is so complex that only a few doctors, they say, hope to pass the test.

“I worked as a doctor in Ukraine,” says Tatyana. “I did all types of ultrasound, described the results of the studies, advised patients and prescribed treatment. Here, I’m just a “bring-and-give” technical specialist. I do not have the right to consult patients or even conduct ultrasound diagnostics, to which I have devoted years of my professional practice.”

The situation is similar with teachers, scientists, lawyers, writers, book publishing workers and many other professions. Even if these people speak English, they rightly or wrongly feel a colossal internal mental resistance to working in different roles such as a maid in a hotel, a waitress in a cafe, a salesperson, or a construction worker.

However, in this article, I will not play the tiniest violin. On the contrary, I want to talk about the Ukrainians who, despite all the difficulties, have found themselves professionally in a new country, using their intellectual potential to the maximum and avoiding work in low-paid sectors of the economy.

Regrouping in wartime

1. Nadiya Timofeeva

Our first heroine is Nadiya Timofeeva. She is the head of the JOY FITNESS studio in Ireland. Nadiya is a certified infectious disease doctor and a certified fitness trainer for group programs.

1-1 Nadiya Timofeeva is the head of the JOY FITNESS studios. Polina Bashkina Polina Bashkina

In Ukraine, before the outbreak of the full-scale war, she managed and marketed high-profile fitness clubs in Kharkiv. After arriving in Ireland, realising that she couldn’t work as a doctor, Nadiya decided to take up what was good for her – fitness.

She formed groups in various places, renting studios. After that, she decided to rent studio space long term, since there were certain restrictions on free time in the halls, as well as costs and conditions.

“It wasn’t easy to decide where to go and what to say,” says Nadiya. “Because I’m working for the first time in another country. There was a lot of the unknown, and it was scary. I registered on the revenue website and arranged a consultation; the officer consulted me and helped me with all my questions. I consider opening a studio in Ireland my victory. It’s a good experience. A difficult path.”

Business has risks in any country, and Nadia understands this. “No one gives guarantees. Of course, I expected that my business would bring me a profit, but I have not received it so far. All the income I receive goes to expenses.

For comparison, the cost of fitness services in Ireland is two times higher than in Ukraine. But the cost of expenses is 3-4 times higher. But I’m not upset and continue to do what I love. I believe in myself and invest my potential in future success. I plan to increase the number of groups, make more girls happy in JOY FITNESS, and raise comfort and service levels in the studio. And, of course, improve the level of my English.”

1-3 Nadia at work Polina Bashkina Polina Bashkina

Nadia is very grateful to everyone she has interacted with – visitors, landlords, civil servants, the Ukrainian community and everyone who has helped her along the way. “Ireland has become a second home for me. Very kind people here. Very similar to us Ukrainians. But my home and my family stay in Ukraine. After Ukraine’s victory, I will go home. And I will be happy to live in two countries – Ukraine and Ireland.”

2. Yuriy Serdyuk 

Another hero is Yuriy Serdyuk and his chocolate factory. Finding himself in Ireland by coincidence, Yuri, a year later, became the head of a chocolate factory.

2-1 Yuriy Serdyuk Polina Bashkina Polina Bashkina

It all started with Yuri’s hometown – Kherson – falling under Russian occupation. The chances of survival were minimal, and Yuri’s wife needed a replacement pacemaker. The family decided to go to Ireland since there was no opportunity for the surgery in Ukraine.

It was scary. The departure lasted five days through Crimea. Our lives and our children’s lives were in enormous danger.

“To date, we have operated free of charge, thanks to Ireland. Also, in the summer of 2023, our daughter was born. First, we had accommodation in a hotel, and a month later, we submitted our CVs to the chocolate factory. Even though five people applied for this position, the interview was successful since I had my own restaurant business in Ukraine. In addition, I have a higher education – I graduated from college with a degree in enterprise economics.”

2-2 Yuriy with his wife and family in Ireland. Polina Bashkina Polina Bashkina

Yuriy says there were challenges but they’ve finally built a life in Ireland. “My wife and I came to work as confectioners and chocolate makers. The difficulty was the English language barrier. But we did it! Today, I am the head of the factory.

“Now we live in good conditions, rent a house (me, my wife, son, daughter and newborn baby), we have a car and a stable income. I am very grateful to John Connolly, the factory owner, for his help, trust and support. Ireland is a wonderful country with good opportunities for a fulfilling life. But I still want to return to my homeland after Ukraine’s victory.”

3. Anna Skyrda

Anna is our third heroine. Anna is a professional athlete, master of sports and multiple champion of Ukraine in swimming. Within a year of living in Ireland, she completed her studies, receiving a diploma with honours and a medal for the outstanding achievement award.

3-1 Anna Skyrda Polina Bashkina Polina Bashkina

“My main education is a course in Sports Injuries and Massage Therapy, which I completed at Limerick College,” says Anna. “I am also continuing my 3rd-year studies at the Kharkiv National Medical University with a physiotherapy and occupational therapy degree.”

Studying in college was dynamic and required much effort because the girl combined two educations and attended English language courses. “My day began at 6 am with online classes at a Ukrainian university (there is a 2-hour difference between the time in Ukraine and Ireland),” says Anna.

“After which, travelling by train from Gort to Limerick, I continued to study. My schedule was not easy, but thanks to the habit of knowing hard work since childhood and experience in professional sports, I managed.”

3-2 Anna's college award. Polina Bashkina Polina Bashkina

At college, Anna received a practical-oriented education. Students were provided extensive opportunities to practice massage and physiotherapy and study anatomy, nutritional science and exercise techniques in the gym.

Anna says she had help along the way, which made all the difference. “The excellent teachers at the college significantly impacted my learning and mood. I am very grateful to them for their support and understanding. They were not just teachers but wonderful people who helped every student. My desire for a healthy lifestyle, strong character, lack of bad habits, and a prosperous past in sports helped me choose the profession of physiotherapist. This is a job that I genuinely love, and I enjoy helping people; this is my calling”.

Last year was successful for Anna – in addition to her diploma with honours and a medal, she also received an ITEC diploma in massage and improved her knowledge of the English language. “This was a significant step in my career. I also continued my studies at the Kharkiv National Medical University, deepening my knowledge and skills.

Anna says she plans to keep moving and pushing her career. “Regarding my future professional plans, I am focused on continuing to develop in physical therapy and rehabilitation. I plan to complete my undergraduate studies and am considering continuing my studies abroad. Whether I will remain in Ireland after the Ukrainian victory remains open. I appreciate the opportunities Ireland has given me, but I also feel a deep connection with Ukraine. I plan to continue working on my online project and attend various specialised training and courses. In addition to this, I am currently looking for a job in Ireland to gain more practical experience.”

4. Khomenko family

The fourth story is about a family from the Ukrainian Dnipro. Yulia Khomenko and her husband left Ukraine when the war started because they had a 6-month-old child.

4-1 Yulia Khomenko and her husband. Polina Bashkina Polina Bashkina

Previously, both spouses graduated from the Lyceum of Information Technologies and received a bachelor’s degree at the Faculty of Applied Mathematics, majoring in Information Technologies. Before the war, they had a business to produce personalised busy boards for children, which they sold to the American and European markets.

Sometime after their arrival, they turned to the research centre, where they talked about their experience and said they wanted to do business in Ireland. They completed the course “How to start your business in Ireland”, registered as sole traders, purchased the necessary equipment and started working.

“From the point of view of ease of opening and running a business, Ireland is much simpler and more understandable for an entrepreneur,” says Yulia Khomenko. “But production, materials, equipment and hired workers are much more expensive than in Ukraine – this should be considered when building your business model. It turned out that we could not have the same production in Ireland because it would be unprofitable. Therefore, we have to look for new ways of development.”

The couple concluded that the domestic market is small but solvent. On the plus side, it is easy to communicate and build relationships with local business owners. So, entrepreneurs, when they understood the strategy of creating a business in Ireland, managed to find new local customers.

Yulia and her husband have yet to determine whether they will return to Ukraine. “To stay or not is a tough question because our son has been living most of his life in Ireland; he already speaks English. So, while the war continues, we are working and developing here and will see in the future.”

5. Anna Danylova

The fifth heroine, Anna Danylova, has a higher philological education. She graduated from Kyiv National Linguistic University, having received the qualification of teacher of English language and foreign literature.

In Ukraine, she worked for many years in a company that is an official distributor of international sports brands. She started as a secretary-translator and then became an international affairs manager. Anna now lives in Monivea in County Galway. “It’s difficult to find a job here,” says the woman.

“Besides, my children had a challenging period of adaptation. The war, moving to another country, separation from family and home, and studying in two schools at the same time had a very negative effect on their physical and mental condition, so I “was sitting on a doll” for a long time. I am very grateful to Ireland for the time I could devote to the children and their adaptation and recovery. Although I did not work, I got to know the local community. I participated in many local events as a volunteer translator, including in the conversation club, where I was a bridge between the Irish and Ukrainians of our village because, unfortunately, many did not know English”.

In the summer of 2023, Hanna learned about the BTWEA program and decided it was the perfect option because she had worked on her schedule for many years. She attended SYOB courses and developed a business plan to become a self-employed translator.

“I was helped a lot by Irish friends who, for obvious reasons, know all the processes better. There were no difficulties because I clearly understood what I wanted to do and what Ireland needed now. But getting used to the Irish pace of life was very difficult. Everything happens much more slowly here. You can spend days or even weeks on each step. I hoped to start working in October 2023, but now it’s February 2024, and I still haven’t started. Courses, preliminary assessment and approval in the BTWEA program, registration with Revenue, registration of a business name, opening a business account in a bank – all this takes a huge amount of time, which is unusual for Ukrainians, and, unfortunately, these processes are sequential, that is, they cannot be done at the same time.”

But Anna also notes the advantages of such a pace of life. “It was in Ireland that I learned to slow down and rest,” she says. “There is a clear understanding of working and free time. My income in Ireland is higher than in Ukraine, but the cost of living here is also higher, so the standard of living is generally the same. 2023 became a turning point for me because somewhere in the middle of the year, I realised that I would be in Ireland for a long time. After all, the war in Ukraine probably won’t end for many more years, and I don’t want my children to grow up in war conditions. I will do my best to give them a peaceful life. Therefore, I started to make more long-term plans and intend to work in Ireland, taking into account the possible change in the conditions of stay of Ukrainians here.

“To be honest, I don’t know if I will stay in Ireland after Ukraine’s victory. Unfortunately, victory will not come very soon, so planning is difficult. I miss home very much, but I will not return my children to the war. So while we’re here, I want to find new friends, new opportunities, a new home, and ultimately live a normal life.”

6. Polina

Finally, I would also like to give my own example. I was a writer in Ukraine. Two months before Russia attacked, my book “12 Months. A Year of Sense” was published. It is about finding your calling and living meaningfully.

When I moved to an English-speaking country, I experienced a moral and intellectual crisis because I lost the opportunity to realise myself fully. I’ve lost a professional identity. To continue writing and publishing books in Ukraine, you must live in Ukraine and see the war from the inside. And because I have a small child, I am outside my home country.

Ultimately, I found a temporary solution: I became a journalist in Ireland – and this is how I realised my calling as a writer. In addition, I am currently translating my book into English, hoping to find a publisher in the English-speaking world. I write fiction in English and publish it in local periodicals. I also organised a charity exhibition of my photographs with night views of Gort – the town where my son and I lived at that time.

All this allows me to feel in demand professionally and intellectually, at least partially. But all these decisions still seem temporary and do not make me happy. War changes destinies. It stirs up all the circumstances of a person’s life caught in its millstone, like a gigantic wave that whirls you in the ocean. And even if you swim away, your life will never be the same again.

Polina Bashkina is a Ukrainian writer and journalist. Her book 12 Months. A Year of Sense was published at the end of 2021. Previously, Polina worked in business and political PR and marketing. She headed the press service of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine worked in the Ukraine President’s Administration.