Exiled from Iran and Ukraine
Christmas will be different for the Ukrainian residents at Maple Court in Castlepollard this year. Eilis Ryan spoke to some of them recently about their experiences since fleeing their war torn homeland earlier this year.
For Majid Sheikrampour, who left Iran 10 years ago with his Ukrainian wife and their newborn daughter to settle in Ukraine, finding himself in Ireland has proven a happy experience.
Even before the war started, Majid and his wife were going through a divorce: nonetheless, they remain on good terms, and when she moved to Dublin, he opted also to come to Ireland so he could continue to see his daughter.
"Every weekend I drive to Dublin, and I bring her here for two days."
In many ways, he admits, this country is easier for him than Ukraine because he speaks fluent English, whereas he found it difficult to attain any degree of fluency in Ukrainian.
"My ex-wife she was saying – because we were going out sometimes the first few weeks – ‘you’re completely different here: you are talking with people, not like in Ukrainian, where you were [more introverted]’. So I said: ‘of course! Here I understand the language; I can have a conversation!’.
"So I had maybe one or two friends in the 10 years that I was there. But here in Ireland, people are very friendly. I haven’t lived in Dublin, and maybe in Dublin they don’t have time for conversations, but here in Castlepollard I know lots of people, I am friends with lots of people – in the library; in the community garden, and it’s nice to just talk and have a chat with people and know what’s their story."
For the majority of his time in Ukraine, Majid had his own telecom company, providing a low-cost alternative for phonecalls to Ukraine. Iranian authorities were frustrated that the servers were in Ukraine and so out of their reach, and so Majid admits he wouldn’t be confident of his own safety if he were to return there at present.
Already, he has bought a car, and has been travelling to Kildare to train to be a truck driver. It’s a long way from his past career in telecommunications – but as a bit of a car nut, he’s excited about the change.
The current protests in Iran come as no surprise to Majid, who makes no bones about describing how restrictive life was there: "It is one of the main reasons I left Iran. My Ukrainian wife was living with me there for almost two years. My daughter was born there. And the moment that I knew that I was going to have a daughter, I said: ‘this is not the country I’m going to raise my daughter in’ because there are tons of limitations that mean you can literally not do anything.
"I was a boy there and when I was going to school, we too had lots of controls – ‘your hair should be this length; you shouldn’t hear that type of clothing’ – all the way up to the university.
"I didn’t want my daughter to grow up in some similar situation."
While not religious, Majid grew up Muslim, so his first experience of Christmas was in Ukraine, where it was celebrated after new year – but he is really looking forward to experiencing an Irish Christmas, and the novelty of having it take place before new year.