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‘I’m working. I have two jobs’: Ukrainians play down impact of welfare cuts

Hours after Government signed off on cuts to financial supports for Ukrainian refugees, a small gathering of the country’s Dublin community gathered on a north Dublin beach in a bid to refocus attention on the conflict consuming their homeland.

Their views on welfare reductions were broadly accepting and supportive, if somewhat qualified in respect of more vulnerable recipients, but it was not the most pressing issue on their minds.

Ostensibly a celebration of Ukraine’s Vyshyvanka Day which honours the country’s traditional embroidery dress, more than two dozen participants lined out along Dollymount Strand, concerned that Europe’s focus on the war is ebbing.

“Basically it’s awareness. About the things in Ukraine that didn’t stop. And it’s still continuing, aggression is continuing but now nobody is – people just forgot about this,” said the event organiser who asked to be identified as Hanna. “It’s all about Palestine 1715756298, Israel, you know, and we are a bit disappointed.”

Hanna thought of using the national celebration as a way of revitalising public awareness after a work colleague recently appeared surprised when told the Russian war was grinding on.

“That’s why I just started to think, okay, we need to do something,” she said. “Imagine my disappointment when people ask me about this. It’s not the first time.”

The beach gathering in colourful embroidered clothes was a mix of those fleeing the war and others who have been settled in Ireland for years.

There is a notable reluctance among them to criticise the welfare cuts, except for concern over mothers with young children, less able to work.

“Those people who can work or study, they [are] fine. They are saying: oh, it’s understandable, that makes sense, you have to just stand up and do something,” said Hanna, who dismissed any notion of annoyance at a lack of handouts. “No. I’m working. I have two jobs.”

Lesya Melnychuk, a community volunteer who has been a permanent resident in Ireland since before the Russian invasion, said she knows someone in a Government-subsidised hotel who is unable to find work because she has a young child.

“Things are changing yes, but it doesn’t mean that we are not grateful, the people that fled, for what Ireland has done so far. Such a small country has done a lot,” she said.

Pavlo Koval, a 21-year-old who was born in Drogheda, Co Louth before moving back to Ukraine, returned again with his parents and younger sister at the outbreak of the war. He is firm that a cut in welfare supports is appropriate.

“I think that Irish Government are right because they help two years now and four months,” he said. “What they do now…[providing] help for study, for finding the job, is the proper way to do it.”

Two years after fleeing Odessa, Oksana Tsymbalova works as an art therapist with Ukrainian and other children. She said the move to reduce payments placed some Ukrainians in a difficult situation, raising questions as to what they might do next.

“It’s difficult because Ireland is not a cheap country,” she said. “And if you don’t have any support, any financial support, it’s very difficult.”

Still, for those marking Vyshyvanka Day in Dublin, it was still about wrestling the conversation back to the war, and to block out the myriad distractions with a colourful display of Ukrainian pride.

“I guess the world isn’t the safest place and we’ve learned it the hard way over the last two years,” said Ms Melnychuk. “But any negative news tends to dissolve because people are only capable [of absorbing] so much.”

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