UKRANIAN refugee Oksana Shadrina-O’Hurley has been living in Cork for the past four years, since meeting her Cork husband in 2012 when they were both on business trips in Kyiv.
Three years later, Oksana, aged 40, moved to Ireland to marry Miceál O’Hurley and found herself applying for status as a refuge as the Russian invasion and occupation of her homeland Ukraine had intensified.
The pair now live in Youghal with their two children, two-year-old Blaithnaid and nine-month-old Lorcan.
“I have a two-year-old and a nine-month-old — spare time is something of which I see little! When I can, I paint landscapes in the style of the 19th-century Irish painter, Paul Henry.”
Painting has been a hobby since she was a child.
“My husband Miceál introduced me to the work of Paul Henry when we visited the national gallery in Dublin.”
Oksana paid a glowing tribute to her husband.
“He is intelligent, talented, kind and handsome. I’m very proud of him.”
The pair decided to get married in 2015 but found the process more difficult than they would have thought.
“There was a lot of bureaucracy and it was hard to get the right information. We were told we needed to go to the gardaí for an interview, but that turned out to be for EU citizens only.
“We had a hard time getting documents translated as well.”
After getting married, Oksana applied to stay in Ireland as the war in Ukraine had intensified and she was concerned for her safety.
She applied to the International Protection office and after her first attempt was refused, she appealed the decision.
“It was a very long process, but I am delighted to say I am now in Ireland.”
She has met many fantastic personalities since moving here.
Oksana has spent almost a year-and-a-half volunteering at the local Citizen’s Information office where she learned a great deal about Cork and the laws of Ireland as well as meeting countless numbers of people.
“Most Irish people I have met are incredibly good, kind and interesting people,” Oksana said.
Living along the Cork coast also has its perks.
“Youghal offers beautiful beaches and has a great heritage. The Regal Cinema in Youghal was restored last year and is simply incredible. The couple times a year I can get a night out, I enjoy visiting the Regal.”
Visits to the city also include a trip to Fitzgerald Park which Oksana said is fabulous.
Oksana’s greatest memories of living in Cork are days most women want to forget.
“I gave birth to Bláithnaid and Lorcán at Cork University Hospital (CUH) Maternity Hospital.
“The nursing staff was incredible and the doctors excellent. Giving birth in a nation not-at-war made me grateful to the people of Ireland for their and my safety.”
As an Asylum Seeker and a designated Refugee, the International Protection Tribunal has deemed that it is not safe for Oksana to return to Ukraine.
“I live for the day when Ukraine will once again be restored to her former borders and free once again. Then I can return.”
Despite yearning for the day that she can visit her home country, Oksana said Cork is home on many levels.
“Being with my husband and children in Ireland is a dream come true.
“The land is so beautiful, the people kind and like my Ukrainian homeland, we have both suffered under foreign occupation where our language, culture and people were oppressed. I love Cork!”
Looking ahead, Oksana said her life and the lives of her two children are very much invested in Cork, but the heritage and history of her hometown is also important.
“Cork is home now, I have family here. But I will teach them about Ukraine. I often read my children fairytales in Ukraine. It is a very important part of their learning. It is part of who they are, part of their culture.”
While connected to her past, Oksana’s future is cemented in Cork.
“It would be wonderful to grow old in Cork. As long as there is a future for my children, Ireland is home. I’m willing to do my part in helping keep this nation strong, growing, safe and a happy place to live.”