Olya Maryntseva fears much of the goodwill shown to Ukrainians at the outset of the war is dissipating as cost-of-living crisis intensifies
A spokesperson for Ukrainians living in Kerry has said her community is not trying to avail of services ahead of locals and is pleading with the Government to let Ukrainians make a greater contribution to society.
Olya Maryntseva is a Community Development Worker with North, East and West Kerry Development (NEWKD). Her role is to support and liaise with Ukrainians sheltering in Kerry regarding the day-to-day issues they encounter.
However, Olya admitted to detecting a slight sea change in goodwill towards Ukrainians who are being accused of disproportionately availing of certain benefits at the expense of local people.
Olya fled to Kerry with her two children in March leaving behind her husband and eldest daughter in Ukraine.
She not only feels these misconceptions are unfair but can be countered if Government is willing to utilise the skills and talent within the Ukrainian community.
Olya stressed it is not the intention of Ukrainians to take up accommodation for students or to frustrate social services. She did reiterate the fundamental point that her people are living here because they have nowhere else to go.
As the voice of the Ukrainian community with NEWKD, Olya’s travels around the county discovered that public transport and school bus places are the main issues.
“We need to raise this situation in Irish society. I know the majority of people still want to help us, but it hurts to hear we are being blamed for taking services,” Olya said.
“People have been great, but everyone is tired as it’s all about the Ukrainians taking this and that. We are very sorry, but we can’t go back home. We never wanted to cause trouble. You made us feel free here. We have lost everything,” she said.
“We are homeless at 40, 50, and 60 years of age. If Ireland didn’t support us, we would die. That’s why we want extra English classes, extra school buses for our kids. We want Ireland to have the best of what we brought from Ukraine. The intelligence and future of Ukraine is here, why not use it?” Olya said.
This is the second time a Russian invasion has forced Olya and her family to flee. She lived in the Donetsk region when Russia invaded in 2014. The family moved to western Ukraine where not everyone was welcoming. She does not want to see a similar situation develop in Kerry.
“When we moved from east to western Ukraine, the people there accused us of taking their houses and jobs. People said they hated us. It was very difficult. Now I am here with some of these same women, and they know what it feels like,” she said.
“I don’t want this to start happening again. The point is we want to grow up a part of your community [Kerry]. It’s a privilege for us to stay here. Even though we want to go home; we miss our husbands, wives, parents. We miss the simple things like cooking on our own, but we still feel privileged for what the Irish people have done,” said Olya.
While Ukrainians in Kerry say they are thankful to the Government for providing safety and shelter, the time has come, Olya feels, to ‘give something back’.
“We don’t want to be here like chickens on a farm being fed and doing nothing. It’s about protecting the emotional needs of our teenagers first of all,” she said.
"They don’t know if they will ever be able to go home. It’s about the fear of going back home and discovering nothing there for us. We don’t know if we will ever fit into a new Ukraine.”
Olya concludes: “We are fighting for European rights at the moment, the protection of the freedoms we take for granted here. We came here from a better life. We are not asking for more, we are asking what we can do. We have to come out and be heard on this issue. We still have enormous support and help from people. We now want to help those who have helped us.”