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Sinéad Moriarty: The Ukrainians in my class give me a lesson in resilience

Broken families come in many forms, as the bestselling novelist found when she talked to the refugees in her class about the pain of separation

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‘Helping out’: Sinéad Moriarty, whose new book explores blended families; and left, with her Ukrainian students. Main photo by Damien Eagers

‘Helping out’: Sinéad Moriarty, whose new book explores blended families; and left, with her Ukrainian students. Main photo by Damien Eagers

Sinéad Moriarty with her class of Ukrainian students

Sinéad Moriarty with her class of Ukrainian students

Yours Mine Ours by Sinéad Moriarty

Yours Mine Ours by Sinéad Moriarty

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‘Helping out’: Sinéad Moriarty, whose new book explores blended families; and left, with her Ukrainian students. Main photo by Damien Eagers

My new novel, Yours Mine Ours, is about broken and blended families. It’s about divorce, separation and second chances. I wanted to explore the question of whether separated parents can form new relationships that will last if their children are deeply unhappy in the new blended family.

When I was researching it, I discovered that relationships where the parties bring in children they had with other people had a 70pc failure rate. That’s not a great outcome.

If your children are unhappy, do you get to be happy, or is that considered selfish? Do you have to park your happiness until your children are adults and have left home?

In Yours Mine Ours, Anna and James fall in love and move in together with their children from former marriages. Optimistically, they think it will all be fine and the children will get on. They don’t. They also believe that because they are head over heels about each other, they will love each other’s children. But how easy is it to love a child that clearly hates you and wants to break up your relationship?

Yours Mine Ours explores all of these questions and ultimately asks if love is enough for a blended family to survive. Little did I know when I was writing the book that the world would turn upside down and war would break out in Ukraine.

I had no idea then that I would end up teaching English to Ukrainian refugees. Little did I think that I’d be staring at broken families every week and looking into the faces of bereft women (and a few young men) as they try to carve out a life far from home.

Just to be clear, I’m not a qualified English teacher, I’m just helping out. I give Kseniya, the gorgeous and dedicated Ukrainian English teacher, a break on Fridays and come in to teach the last hour of class at UCD.

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Sinéad Moriarty with her class of Ukrainian students

Sinéad Moriarty with her class of Ukrainian students

Sinéad Moriarty with her class of Ukrainian students

The Ukrainians in my class are resilient, inspiring, strong and joyful. We have so much fun. I am awed that, despite the horror of their situation, these wonderful women and young men can smile and laugh. They are determined to make the most of a terrible situation.

They are keen to improve their English while they are here and have nothing but positive things to say about the Irish people. I try not to talk about the war with them, because they are constantly being asked about it and they worry about their loved ones 24/7. But when I told them that I was writing an article about broken families and being apart from loved ones, they were kind enough to contribute their thoughts.

Here’s what they had to say. They have asked that their quotes remain anonymous.

“When I hugged my mum and dad for the last time before going away, I was too scared, stressed and exhausted to realise that I might not see them again. This realisation came later and made me feel absolutely desperate. Luckily, my parents managed to leave Ukraine to move to a safe country, but they are still far away. Now I just miss them enormously. I live in hope to see them and to be able to hug them again.”

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“It was the most difficult decision of my life. I have never seen tears in my husband’s eyes before. My friends in Ukraine ask me every day when we’ll come back. But I don’t know what to answer them. I have to stay far from home to save my daughter’s life and mental health.”

“I’m lucky I was in Turkey with my girlfriend when the war broke out. If I had been living in Ukraine at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to leave the country. None of my male friends and relatives were able to leave. My friends in Lugansk can’t go outside because they can be caught and will be forced to fight for the Russian army.”

“My husband is a soldier and that’s why I had to leave Ukraine with my children immediately. As my husband explained, when enemies come to a village or town, they try to find military families and kill them brutally.”

“Who doesn’t feel sad and empty in this situation? But life doesn’t end and I keep doing things that I like. I’m here with my family and they already have found jobs.”

“I arrived in Ireland in March with my son. Irish people are so kind and supportive. I am very grateful because here, my son began to smile again. But it is hard for us to be so far away from family. We worry every day.”

“My husband and parents are in Ukraine. It was a tough decision to come to Ireland but we all discussed it and decided that it would be better for the children to get to a safe place and continue their studies. We are very lucky and get a lot of support here, but the children, especially my younger daughter, really miss and worry about their dad.”

“I am from Kyiv. I was on holidays when the war started but my family are in Ukraine. My parents moved out of Kyiv to a safer place but couldn’t settle. My mum missed her plants, her home and was uncomfortable being a displaced person so they went back to Kyiv two months ago and are living in a ‘new reality’. I have had a great experience here in Ireland. Irish people equals kindness, positivity and support. I love this country and the people a lot! On each of my steps here, I feel supported.”

As you can see, these brilliant people are eloquent, heart-sore and devastated to be apart from their loved ones. Broken families come in all forms.

It is a privilege to spend time with these courageous and inspiring people. We can only hope and pray that the war does not drag on and that they get to go home, hug their loved ones and mend their broken families once more.

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Yours Mine Ours by Sinéad Moriarty

Yours Mine Ours by Sinéad Moriarty

Yours Mine Ours by Sinéad Moriarty

‘Yours Mine Ours’ by Sinéad Moriarty, published by Sandycove, is out on July 7


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