Roman Entsav and Yulia Smyshliakova.

'Ireland is a very good country'

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.

There are things that have surprised designer and photographer Yulia Smyshliakova about life in Ireland – and things that have shocked her.

What proved a pleasant surprise was the realisation that the air here is much cleaner than around her native Mariupol, which had a lot of heavy industries. More of a shock was the poor level of public transport provision.

"In Ireland, transport is worse than in Ukraine. In Ukraine, [even] little villages have regular transport every day – maybe [even] three or five times per day, going in many different directions."

Yulia and her partner, art gallery manager Roman Entsav are happy in Castlepollard. Still in touch with friends and family, they have accepted that as things stand, life in Mariupol is not good: "[They are] without good qualities of life," says Yulia. "They are without warmth in their houses; without a water system. Just electricity does work.

While she misses home, she points out that it’s not possible to say if she and Roman will return: "Who [knows] what will be the future," she says. In the meantime, WhatsApp makes it possible to keep in contact with the people who matter. Family members who live in villages near Kyiv report that there is at present no military presence – but an uncle in Kyiv has been describing the situation there as more volatile.

Yulia’s time is taken up full time with study: she is pursuing a full-time online course in graphic design with the Tipperary Institute, and has recently received a certificate in proficiency in Photoshop and is aiming to get certification in Illustrator, InDesign and Premiere. While much of the course work is easy for her as her background is in design, it is the first time she has had to study through English.

"It is nice to have this opportunity," she says.

Roman is happy here: "Ireland is a very good country. Ireland has beautiful peoples; nice nature; a modern economy; very interesting parts," he says. He is especially fond of Irish literature – and stresses that he was a fan of Joyce, Wilde and Beckett long before he ever came here.

He has visited the art galleries in Dublin and has been impressed at what he has seen, and excited to discover some interesting emerging artists working here.

At the same time, he misses home and he misses his mother.