‘Ireland was top of my list, so we decided to move from Ukraine for the sake of the kids and start from there’

New to the Parish: Obi Ojimadu, originally from Nigeria, came to Ireland after many years in Ukraine

Obi Ojimadu was delivered with the assistance of Irish nuns in Nigeria when he was born, right after the Nigerian Civil War. This was just the beginning of a life connected to Ireland.

As a child, he lived in a parish centre run by Irish priests and nuns, because of the destruction caused by the war. So Ojimadu always had an affiliation with Ireland. But he never thought he’d actually end up here.

As a teenager, he moved to the Soviet Union on a scholarship to attend university. When the Soviet Union collapsed, he settled in Ukraine, started working, got married and had three children.

He says he often thought about how he was alive because of the Irish people.


“I’ve always had that love, I’d always like to read about Ireland, listen to the news, learn about Ireland, even when all the issues [were] going on in Ireland in the 80s, 90s and stuff, I was always reading,” Ojimadu explains.

“I had that passion to know what’s going on in my place – my parents used to say, ‘Well, you are the Irish boy’, so I have that link already, that affiliation with Ireland.”

So, when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, 2022, and Ojimadu had to flee the country in which he lived and worked with his wife and three teenage children, Ireland was top of his list of potential destinations.

“We had to leave. Over there I had a business as well as being a football coach, I worked with the Shakhtar Donetsk grassroots programme, I have the Uefa (B) Licence, I’m a qualified European licensed coach,” he says.

“When the war started in Ukraine we had to run to Budapest, Hungary, where we kind of recovered; it took us some time to recover from the whole shock because we faced a lot of bombardment, things we saw, damage and destruction.”

The family spent about three weeks in Budapest, recovering and hoping the war would be short-lived so they could return home. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

“We saw it wasn’t ending, and then we decided that for the sake of our kids, we have to search for a place where they could continue schooling, to adapt. And so an English-speaking country was the option, and of course Ireland was top of my list, so we decided to move over to Ireland for the sake of the kids and start from there,” Ojimadu says.

Landing in Ireland was an emotional experience, he says.

“I cried, because like, wow, I never dreamt, I never even planned that I could come to this wonderful country. It was so emotional for me,” he says.

I believe that to integrate in the place, you have to make yourself available and ready to integrate. It’s a two-way thing

—  Obi Ojimadu

Upon arrival, the family went to the Citywest reception centre before being moved to temporary accommodation and, after about a week, moved to a hotel in Mullingar, Co Westmeath.

Straight away, Ojimadu got stuck in. His children started school locally, and he began doing courses.

“I was like, ‘Okay, if this war is not going to end soon, then we’ll have to be here, and we don’t know how long, and try to be very involved and be of assistance,” he says.

He did a course in sports, fitness and exercise, and is now a gym instructor and trainer, but also did community employment and works as a volunteer with different community organisations in the area. He also does translation, and is a football coach too, training under-10s, under-15s and the academy, attending almost every day and becoming “part of the system as a volunteer”.

“I believe that to integrate in the place, you have to make yourself available and ready to integrate. It’s a two-way thing, you have to be available and you have to be part of the society one way or the other, you know, and I mean, I did that in Ukraine and I know it works,” he says.

“So here in Ireland, and in the country I already have affiliation with, for me [it] was a no-brainer to get into it, so I volunteer.

“When I’m looking at it, it’s not about what Ireland can give to me and my family, it’s what me and my family can give to Ireland as well, and that means being part of society, and I call it giving back.”

Ojimadu says Ireland has exceeded his expectations as a country, with welcoming, easy-going people who say “Hi” to each other in public, where “Somebody who has never met you before can spark up a conversation with you on the street,” he says.

“You don’t see people trying to get rude or anything, people are somewhat laid-back and polite and fantastic, people are nice, hardworking … it’s making the integration much easier for me.”

Ojimadu also enjoys how people “live their lives very simply” in Ireland, saying that on the streets, you don’t know who is “a millionaire or a waiter”, and it feels like everyone is equal.

“You go to a pub, and you can see the director [of a company] and then you can see the worker – everyone having a pint together,” he laughs, adding that the slang in Ireland such as “What’s the craic?” was a shock to him at first, but he has come to enjoy it.

In terms of demonstrations taking place against the housing of immigrants and asylum seekers in various locations, Ojimadu says that with the increase of people coming to seek asylum in Ireland, there has been some feeling of “resentment”, but that “nobody invited the war, nobody expected the war to come”.

“Everybody has a right to speak up, but sometimes you might really need... to be in somebody’s position to understand what he’s going through,” he says.

Personally for me, I always look at the positive more than the negative. That is my own philosophy in life here

—  Obi Ojimadu

“We had to leave everything behind, or whatever I have left – I don’t even know whatever I have left, but when somebody looks at you and think that you’re coming here to, I don’t know, to be a ‘freebie’, it gets negative sometimes.

“But I know that those opinions are not of the whole of the Irish people, it is the minority doing that,” he adds, “I know the majority of Irish people are welcoming, they really are here to help, to work with you and give you help. When we arrived we got lots of help.”

Ojimadu adds that he feels Irish people feel his family’s pain, knowing what it feels like to be colonised, to endure war, as the country “went through difficult times, for hundreds of years, different wars and problems”.

“That is one of the reasons I think the Irish people have this welcoming [approach], so personally for me, I always look at the positive more than the negative. That is my own philosophy in life here.”

Ojimadu began volunteering at the football club about three weeks after he arrived in Mullingar. “I’m not working just with kids, [it’s] with adults, with everybody. I met someone, I told him, ‘Hey, this is who I am,’ and he was like ‘Okay, maybe you can help us,’ I said, ‘fine,’ and that’s it, that is how it started.”

Working with children and coaching them means being like a mentor to them, Ojimadu says. “Some kids might come in with issues at home, maybe parents are not happy, and when they come to play football, it’s a way of getting them out. For me, it’s also a way of training kids, like learning about life, teamwork, discipline, also having people to look up to,” he says.

Once his children started school in Mullingar, Ojimadu says, they settled in very quickly and began making new friends and getting used to the system.

“They love it, they are really happy, and for me that is the priority, that’s why we’re here – for the sake of the kids.”

After spending about 18 months living in a hotel, the family recently moved into a house in the town and were able to celebrate their first “normal” Christmas and new year there, “which was just fantastic”.

This year, he aims to start on his Uefa A coaching licence, because “if I start something, I like getting to the end of it – I don’t like stopping anywhere in the middle”.

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com or tweet @newtotheparish