Helen’s parents had dramatically different journeys before settling in Ireland. Despite hailing from the same village in western Ukraine, they had never met until both ended up in Dublin. “She never met my dad,” Helen said of her mother. “She never knew him in person, they came from the same village, but never met each other.” 

Helen’s father was “part of the army”, but “he saw it wasn’t for him. He hated it and wanted to travel.” She explains: “He saw that if he stayed in Ukraine there was… very little opportunity for him.” So, he left. He travelled to Hungary, to Germany, to Paris, eventually making his way to England. After some suggestions from friends he made his way to Ireland and settled here. “He didn’t think he was going to stay in Ireland. He thought he was going to the States.” 

Helen’s mother was an English teacher and after a school trip in England she and Helen’s grandmother, also a teacher, had a free week and decided to visit Ireland. Through Helen’s father’s sister, they were able to stay with him. In a twist of fate, she “got robbed” while sightseeing in Dublin. Her bag contained her passport, leaving her unable to go home, but there was a silver lining; “She really got to know my dad. She really liked him and she liked being together and going out. And then she got pregnant with me. They’re still here and I was born.” They hold Irish citizenship now. “It took them about 10 years to get it.”

Helen keeps in touch with her Ukrainian roots through language, food and company. “Both my parents are Ukrainian so they both spoke to me in Ukrainian. So, I suppose that was my first language.” “[Her] mom always cooked Ukrainian food because that was the food she could cook.” The “majority of their close friends have been Ukrainian and also have had Ukrainian families. So, [she] would have played with Ukrainian kids.” 

Keeping up with Ukrainian had paid her back in dividends, it allowed her to “know Russian.” But also let her really enjoy her time with her family during visits in Ukraine. “It would have been very hard for me to not speak Ukrainian because I wouldn’t be able to communicate with them when I would have went there. I wouldn’t be able to have fun, I wouldn’t be able to do the things that they do and enjoy it to that level. I wouldn’t be able to comprehend, I wouldn’t be able to understand what they’re saying.” 

Going back to Ukraine for holidays “feels like home” for her. “When I leave Ukraine I’m sad to leave Ukraine because I’m leaving my family. I’m leaving people that are close. I always cry, I always get emotional. I do find it hard.”

She described growing up as “hard”, feeling not quite Ukrainian in Ukraine and not quite Irish in Ireland. “When I go to Ukraine, I felt like I didn’t fully sync in with them because they knew from my mannerisms, the way I acted. Yeah, I spoke Ukrainian, but they could still see a part of me that wasn’t fully raised in Ukraine. Each society, each country has their differences and they could spot that in me and the same way in school I did feel Irish, but I knew I wasn’t the real Irish.” 

“I was really young and didn’t fully have an identity. I didn’t fully know where I belonged. In primary school, it was such a small circle of people and especially the place where I went to where my primary school was. The majority of people there were Irish and like there was only three like me, a girl from Iran and one girl from, whose her parents are Pakistani and it was just the three of us. And for us it was kind of isolating, we did feel different. I definitely felt different among my primary school. I did find it hard to make friends with the Irish. If it was an Irish group, it was hard to kind of click in with them. I don’t know why. I don’t understand why because I suppose we were just childish. We just didn’t understand these things.” But secondary school was better for her, “we were more mature and it was more mixed. So, it was more multicultural. We all got along really well.” 

“I didn’t know where I stood. I didn’t know where I was meant to be. Now, that I have realized that it’s okay. That I have two worlds and I felt that it’s actually even better to explore two countries, to explore two traditions and I get to pick the best from both and still feel myself” Helen concludes that “it’s actually a beautiful thing to be able to be so diverse, to have two different backgrounds and two different cultures.”