In an ideal world it would have been Ireland and not the United Kingdom who were duking it out for first place with the Ukraine in Saturday night’s Eurovision. But with our entry having long since departed it was left to the sentimental favourite to carry the hopes of the nation, for the Ukrainian entry to take the plaudits and bring some cheer to a nation which has had little to celebrate in recent months.
Describing it as feeling like “the whole of Europe giving them a hug”, Alina Khokhlenkova, Mirnia Trosha, and Polina Khokhlenkova watched the contest from their new home in Enniscorthy, a home they now share with Diarmuid Furlong and his husband William Murphy. As a former president of the official Eurovision Irish fan club, Diarmuid’s obsession with the song contest runs deep and on this night of all nights he was more than happy for his guests to take all the glory.
“We had a great night, they were hopeful Ukraine would win beforehand, personally I was as sure as you can be for something like that,” said Diarmuid. “They were ecstatic at the end, they said it was like the whole of Europe giving them a hug. I’ve seen them cry a few times since they got here but this was the first time I saw tears of joy.”
Alina, Mirnia and Polina are three generations of the same family and arrived in Wexford from Mariupol, the coastal city which has seen some of the worst of the fighting since the outbreak of war. And Diarmuid says he was only too happy to invite them into his home.
“At the start of the war I knew I wanted to help in some way. I run a pre-school and so I sent out messages to all the parents asking if they knew of anyone in Ukraine who needed somewhere to stay and that I had spare rooms,” Diarmuid explains. "I just felt if this was happening in Ireland I would hope that families abroad would take in my mother or family members. As well as that I’ve been to Ukraine, I’ve seen how friendly the people are there, and I would have a lot of Jewish friends. It’s not very often in your life you get to do something like this.”
This led Tamara Anastasova to get in touch. A Ukrainian woman living in Wexford for the past decade she knew of a family in desperate need of assistance, a family who could potentially get out of Ukraine so long as they had somewhere to go.
"Tamara’s best friend from college contacted her to say his mother, sister and niece were in Mariupol and was there any way he could get them out. I said I would take them and from there he managed to get them to the Polish border,” says Diarmuid.
In the three weeks since arriving, Alina, Mirnia and Polina have “settled in well” and have been using Google translate to communicate with Diarmuid and William. And having been president of the official fan club for 19 years and travelled all over Europe to cover the event, Diarmuid said he would love if he and his new housemates could travel together to Ukraine for next year’s event. In the meantime he believes Ireland needs to change its approach if it’s ever to add to its haul of victories.
"Brook gave a great performance, I thought she would qualify. But I don’t think The Late Late Show is a great format or platform for selecting the sing, we have to start looking for a good song and singer rather than choosing something based on what we think the rest of Europe will like.”