Diary of a Ukrainian refugee: “I know she’s gone, but I keep looking for our visiting cat”

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I am really happy to be back in Ireland after visiting my family in Warsaw. Like I said before, it’s weird to use the word ‘home’ to describe Ireland, but it’s starting to sound like it.

Of course, it was really nice to be with my family for a while. For a second, it was almost normal. We didn’t have a farewell meal or anything like that. It’s easier to say goodbye when you don’t make too much of it.

I start my new job in Dublin on Monday. My integration will be done online but I will soon be in the office.

I also tried to find a place to rent, a roommate. The market is hectic, so if you don’t text within the first five minutes of a property coming on the market, you’re unlikely to even get a viewing. I attended three visits in all, but in the middle of my search I found another host family through the local community center.

They are really nice people and they have two rescue dogs – one is half cockapoo, half setter and one is closer to a setter.

Unfortunately we – my current foster family and I – had to have a local cat put down this week. Her name was Tweak. She was probably 21, which is older than me, and she spent her whole life as a street cat in the local gardens. I’m only 20 and my life has really turned me upside down lately. So I find it a bit of a butterfly effect, that somehow, in his final moments, I was the one with Tweak.

She was a big cat; very independent and strong. She never entered the house, but always sat at the door when she was hungry. Every time we walked into the kitchen, we looked at the door if it was there. Now I know she’s gone, but I keep doing it.

I have a dog called Frania and a cat called Gaby in Ukraine. My dad sends me pictures and videos of them from time to time, but I really miss them.

On the plus side, I find it so easy to make friends in Ireland. People are so naturally friendly. I can’t really understand. You just try to keep up with them – and you end up meeting all their family and friends. It’s a totally different culture in Ukraine. People are a bit more closed there, but here in Ireland I’m becoming an open person.

I have very practical parents so I try to evaluate things analytically and I used to do that with people. But in Ireland it’s really hard to do that because everyone is so friendly. Not aggressively friendly like Americans are, just pleasantly friendly – enough to let your guard down.

I was not yet 18 when I left Ukraine to go to university in Poland. I was waiting until I was 18 but then Covid hit and then a few years later the war started.

I’ve never really been on the college scene, doing all the party things, but I guess what I’m doing right now in Ireland is a bit similar. I don’t party, but I move around a lot, meet people and am extremely sociable. It’s almost like I’m catching up.

In conversation with Katie Byrne

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