UKRAINIANS who have found refuge in Fermanagh after fleeing the war have met up for the first time for a coffee and a chat in Enniskillen.
Organised by the ERANO refugee support group, which helps those new to the Fermanagh and Omagh area, the meet-up at Fermanagh House last Friday was the first time most had met each other. That’s despite several having close connections back home in Ukraine and who were now staying around the corner from each other in Fermanagh.
With no way of keeping track of how many Ukrainians have found host families here in Fermanagh, and with no Ukrainian support centres this side of the Bann, the volunteer-run ERNO group has been filling the gap locally for help and advice.
ERANO was set up by Mary Lafferty and Nadia Smaidre at the start of November with funding from the National Lottery Community Fund, and was initially aimed at helping refugees from Syria in the Fermanagh and Omagh area.
“Not in our wildest nightmares, because you can’t call it dreams, when we were set up did we imagine there would be a crisis so close to home and that we would be pulled into helping people,” said Nadia, who said the group was “overwhelmed” with people wanting to help.
Mary said there was no way ERANO would turn its back on the refugees and their hosts.
“It has snowballed, and we can’t now close our doors, we have to offer them help,” she said, recognising the work of the voluntary and community sector and calling for more support from above. “Someone really needs to look at this at having more centres in different parts of Northern Ireland.”
The group has been connecting both hosts and families who have reached out to them, either through social media or word of mouth.
One of those who got in touch was Elena Tiuvikova, who is staying in Enniskillen, and has found the group to be a vital connection.
Elena fled her native Kyiv in the first week of the war, first staying in a Ukrainian village 120km from the capital, before making the long journey to Fermanagh.
Fortunately, things were a slightly less daunting for Elena than for some others, as her boyfriend Martin is a Fermanagh man.
“Otherwise I probably would have stayed there,” she said. “My family are still in Ukraine. Thank God, they are in a safe place. We keep in touch everyday.”
Elena, who finds it difficult to talk about the situation at home, said everyone in Fermanagh, particularly Martin’s family, had been very supportive.
Noting Irish people were as “friendly and open” as Ukrainians, she said locals been very helpful and understanding towards those coming here.
“I understand that for all of us it’s not so easy to be hosted in a new culture, and a new people, and probably for a while. For sponsors it’s the same,” she said.
“On the other hand, we get to know another culture, something new, which is important for both of us.”
For more information on ERANO, which is based in Omagh but has an outreach office at Fermanagh House, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 07912751495 or 07912751495.
To read more.. Subscribe to current edition
Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere