free press eristavi: how Ireland helped me to understand Ukraine better
Irish and Ukrainian struggles against colonialism are very similar and very different at the same time
Some of the landscapes in north-western Ireland look so spectacular that you can easily imagine you are on some alien planet. The mixture of black rock, green fields, emerald ocean, and grey skies is the most comforting natural palette that easily puts me in a trance of serenity. As we drove by another stunning harbor, my Irish driver named Finn was trying to make small talk about the weather, tourism, ocean’s water temperature. But none of these topics felt quite right. Blown away by overwhelming beauty, I still felt gutted. Back in Ukraine we also have plenty of mind-blowing terrains. But instead of grateful visitors, they see a rainfall of Russian missiles ravaging and mutilating them. I was in too much pain to care for a social talk. It didn’t feel right for my driver either. He knows I am Ukrainian.
'I don’t care whatever anyone says, taking in Ukrainian refugees is the right thing for us to do. Irish people were refugees ourselves,’ Finn abruptly changes the topic. I instantly take my eyes from the car’s window and catch his stare in the rearview mirror. It is full of concern and care. He wants me to see it. Suddenly I feel safe.
'Thank you, it means a lot,’ I reply. And I really mean it. Amid a record influx of refugees, including 70+k Ukrainians, Ireland is experiencing one of the worst housing crises. Heating prices and inflation are exceptionally taxing, too. Some local opportunists, backed by Russian propaganda, are trying to make scapegoats out of the people fleeing the invasion. Despite this, Ireland remains arguably the most passionate ally of Ukraine in western Europe. Unlike other people in this part of Europe, there are just so many things about Ukraine the Irish people get almost instinctively without any need for us to explain.
We start talking about Ukraine, genocide, and the Irish language. Part of the reason I always wanted to visit the Connachta region in western Ireland is their passion for reviving the indigenous Gaeilge language — this is probably the only place where people use it daily and prolifically. Ireland is investing a lot into mainstreaming the Irish language that got almost erased by British colonial rule. ‘For many generations, our language was considered the language of the poor, uneducated. Parents would discourage their kids from learning it because it would limit their chances in life. Schools would teach only in English. Thankfully, it is very different now,’ Finn explains to me. 'Just change Gaeilge for Ukrainian and you have the same story about my language,’ I respond. ‘We are so similar, indeed,’ he agrees. When we arrive at our destination, Finn wants to shake my hand for an extra second, looks me in the eye, and nodes in silent, but resolute anti-colonial solidarity.
Ireland is why I started looking at my own country and connecting the dots about my own history through colonialism. Before my exposure to the history of this badass survivor of a nation, I thought of all the tragedies that happened to Ukraine as absolutely unique and isolated. Moreover, I would often think that we are the ones to blame for it. I also had very narrow and simplistic knowledge about colonialism as a phenomenon, too. Learning about Ireland changed that forever.