Maryna Kolomoiets.

'I want to integrate and live a normal life'

Maryna Kolomoiets is focused on living in the present and tries not to spend too much time looking back or forward. It’s not hard to see why.

This time last year, she was working in HR for a Toyota dealership in Kyiv, and commuting from Bucha, a satellite city around 35km the Ukrainian capital.

Hundreds of Bucha residents were killed by Russian forces in the first weeks of the invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24 last. It was one of the first outlying areas of Kyiv to be taken by Russian forces in its unsuccessful attempt to gain control of the capital.

The town is now known around the world as the scene of some of the worst atrocities carried out in Europe since WWII.

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner as part of our coverage of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, Maryna says that the initial days of the invasion were manic.

“I bought food and medicine. Everyone was trying to take cash from the ATM and there were huge crowds.

“On the second day of the war, the shops closed and electricity and water went.”

Every night Maryna and her mother joined her neighbours in the basement of her apartment building, the safest place to try to get some sleep.

On March 6, the day before they were evacuated from Bucha, a tank shelled their apartment building and then on March 9 another tank shelled building in front of that. “We observed fire for the next days, fire trucks were not able to provide help,” said Maryna.

After that, they were taken by evacuation bus to the main railway station in Kyiv. There, they said goodbye. Valentyna (Maryna’s mother) travelled to Zaporizhzhia city, where her family are originally from, while Maryna travelled by train to city of Lviv near the Polish border, the second leg of a three-day journey that took her to the safety of Mullingar and her friend’s home.

She decided to join her in Mullingar because she had heard good things about the town and its people.

It was in her first weeks in Mullingar that Maryna became aware of the true scale of the devastation and suffering caused by the Russian army in Bucha.

“We didn’t leave our apartment building. We spent almost all of our time in the basement of our apartment. We decided to move [and be evacuated]. I think it was a miracle.

“The journey was difficult for me physically but not emotionally. I felt very good because I was safe.

“The Irish government provided a warm welcome at the airport. There were no delays and everyone was kind and supportive when it came to documentation.”

Now, Maryna is working in the human resources department at the Charter Medical Private Hospital and is busy building a new life in Mullingar.

Within days of arriving on March 13 last, she quickly put her professional skills to good use. Eager to improve her level of English and to help her compatriots, she worked as a translator and assisted as interpreter during in-house meetings with the Ukrainian community at the Women’s Community Projects, and also assisted with re-organising HR files helped fellow refugees with paperwork.

In Ukraine, Maryna worked in human resources for a Toyota dealership; in Mullingar, she started to look at what she could do to integrate successfully with her new community.

A believer in lifelong learning and eager to get her career back on track, she completed two pre-employment courses to help prepare her to enter the Irish workplace.

She has also passed the Cambridge business in English exam and is currently doing a train the trainer course.

After sending out “around 100 CVs”, in October she was hired by Charter Medical Private Hospital in Ballinderry.

“I saw an advertisement and was interested. After communicating with Jessica Farrell, the human resources manager, I saw this as a brilliant opportunity for me to move closer to my professional dream.

“I am really happy. I am working with a company that is expanding and with a professional team. I am grateful for the opportunity.”

Maryna says she enjoys living in Mullingar and particularly walking and cycling on the canal and greenways. She is grateful for the hospitality shown to the people of Ukraine by the Irish government and the wider population.

“It [Mullingar] is similar to Bucha. It’s not far from Dublin. It’s a small town, but it has everything that you need.

“I like the people here. I like their kind approach and they are friendly. I haven’t met people with a bad attitude towards me.”

When she first fled from Bucha and news started emerging about the war crimes committed by the Russians, she found it too painful to watch or read the reports.

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Now, she keeps abreast of things in her homeland, but it can be painful to do so.

“When I first came to Ireland, I couldn’t talk to anyone about what happened. It is hard to watch the news, especially from my city, but I am up to date with news and keep in touch with mum.

“When there are hard days for Ukraine and the Russians attack and destroy buildings, it is very stressful.”

Unsure about what the future holds and whether she will return to Ukraine when the war ends, she focuses on the here and now and making the most of her life in Mullingar.

While she says that there are some similarities between the two cultures, Maryna thinks Irish people are less direct in their interactions, which is something she likes.

“I am doing my best to settle here, to communicate with people, to socialise, do courses. I understand that I need to integrate. I am not trying to evaluate or compare things [between Ukraine and Ireland]. I am open to new experiences.

“I want to do my best while I am here, to have a positive impact. Nobody knows what will happen. I don’t want to waste my time. I couldn’t imagine doing nothing.

“I want to integrate and live a normal life. We can’t live only thinking about the war. We have had huge support from Irish people and government. I want to contribute.”