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‘A lot of them struggle’: Ukrainian women in Ireland juggle work and childcare responsibilities

As Russia-Ukraine war’s second anniversary nears, women who fled here with their children still face a ‘colossal barrier’ to entering the workforce due to unaffordable childcare

As the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches next Saturday [February 24th], Ukrainian women who fled to Ireland with their children are “still facing a colossal structural barrier” to entering the workforce, as they cannot access affordable childcare.

Three-quarters of the Ukrainians who came to Ireland under the temporary protection directive since 2022 are women and children, and while many are now in or actively seeking employment, juggling jobs with childcare is “the main barrier”, some told The Irish Times.

For Valeriia Oliinyk, who arrived in the town of Carrick-on-Suir in early June 2022 with her daughter, who is now seven, childcare is “a big issue” on her mind as she is a widowed single parent.

The family were sent to Citywest upon arrival, where, after three days with no texts from her husband, Oliinyk learned he had been seriously injured and was in a coma. He died two weeks later.


The news was extremely difficult for Oliinyk and her daughter, and now makes matters “more difficult” as she is looking to re-enter employment as a veterinary doctor here in Ireland.

“I can’t work yet because I’ve been waiting months for my qualification to be recognised. It’s a lot of paperwork and translation. So this is another barrier to me,” she said.

Oliinyk remains “positive” and feels that she has “good options” in her area for childcare when the time comes.

“I found a place to rent in Tipperary and in my area, if parents go to work, we have good options of groups for afterschool clubs where the children are taken care of. I am a widow and I’m a single mother, so it doesn’t cost any money,” she said.

“But for some parents who live together and their income is combined, they have to pay.”

There were other barriers to finding work, Oliinyk said, including access to transport.

“I need a car to work and be more mobile. That makes it more difficult for me,” she said.

Some 17,000 Ukrainian people are now in full-time employment in Ireland, an “extraordinarily high” rate given the proportion of refugees that are women with childcare needs, TDs were told last month.

Department of Social Protection secretary general John McKeon told the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in January that about 30 per cent of Ukrainian adults in Ireland are in employment.

He also told the meeting that the department’s case officers would say Ukrainian refugees are “more eager to engage [with employment support services] than perhaps some of the other people that we would deal with”.

Adult Ukrainians are offered employment support services and about 35,000 are attending.

There were “women living in hotel rooms in the west of Ireland, three to a room, a woman and two children, who have childcare responsibilities”, McKeon told TDs.

Ukrainians can access the full range of social welfare support in Ireland, including jobseeker’s payments, pensions, child benefit and rent supplement, subject to the same conditions applicable to Irish citizens.

The department is currently paying child benefit for 21,000 children and the total expenditure to date on welfare support and services to Ukrainian refugees is estimated at €650 million.

Elvira Sieitablaieva, who came to Ireland in 2022 from a small city in Ukraine called Melitopol, says she feels “lucky” compared to other Ukrainian women here with children, as she has the ability to work from home, and her husband is here to help her too.

Sieitablaieva came to Ireland with her son (15) and daughter (5). Later, her husband was able to flee Ukraine to join them.

She found work through the Galway City Partnership as a Ukrainian support worker and has a “flexible schedule with the ability to work from home”.

“At one o’clock, I collect my child from kindergarten and bring her home. Then I can continue to work from home. If my husband is working from home, that helps too,” she said.

“It’s not as difficult for me now, but I’ve noticed a lot of Ukrainian women struggle. I know one lady who started work as a kitchen porter and applied for her child to go to two kindergartens.”

“She brings her to one for three hours, then she has a break and collects the child, then puts the child in another one. So that means she can work for just six hours in the day.”

Sieitablaieva’s co-workers are “flexible because they know I have to be with my child”.

“Some people are scared to start work because of their kids and they don’t know how it’s going to be. But for me, Irish people have been very helpful and we can apply for afterschool [programmes] for a couple of hours too. The main problem really was finding work in the first place,” she said.

Childcare provision is a national issue affecting all people in the country who are trying to maintain jobs or return to the workplace. But it’s magnified when you look at the Ukrainian crisis

—  Empower chief executive Adeline O’Brien

Sieitablaieva pays €100 per month for an afterschool programme for her youngest child “which also helps”, and she is “okay with mostly being in the house with family because we have a lot of space now”.

When they first arrived in Ireland, the family lived in a camp in Dublin for 10 days.

After that they were sent to Galway in a hotel, “in just one room for our whole family for five months”.

“Now, my child can be in her room and play or doing homework while I work. But for people living in the hotels or sharing a house with a few families, it’s much more difficult. I think it would be impossible,” Sieitablaieva said.

Empower, a nonprofit based in Fingal, north Dublin, which turned its headquarters into a centre for Ukrainian refugees in the early days of the war, is still dealing with many Ukrainian mothers who “can’t get jobs” due to childcare, its chief executive Adeline O’Brien told The Irish Times.

“We’re now two years down the road, and [Ukrainian] women have done everything they can do to prepare themselves for employment and engaged extensively in English language courses or industry based training, or even trying to volunteer for experience. But they can’t get jobs anyway,” O’Brien said.

Empower is often the first port of call for women who are new to the community and looking to integrate, whether it’s getting their child into school or linking in with public healthcare services and language courses.

The centre continues to deal with hundreds of Ukrainian refugees, most of whom are women and children who have arrived without husbands or partners, as the country’s martial law forbids men aged 18 to 60 from leaving.

“Unfortunately not much has changed since [2022] in terms of childcare provision. It’s gotten progressively worse in general,” O’Brien said.

“Childcare provision is a national issue affecting all people in the country who are trying to maintain jobs or return to the workplace. But it’s magnified when you look at the Ukrainian crisis,” she said.

In the first year of the war, there were “serious, successful, attempts made to help integrate Ukrainians”, but this was “very hard to sustain when you have young children and there isn’t affordable or community based childcare options available in your area”.

There were now many “skilled, motivated people anxious to enter the workplace” but until their children were of school-going age, there were few options for them.

“Even then, their opportunity to work is limited to how many hours they have free when their child is in school. Even going to interviews takes time these women often don’t have due to lack of childcare.”

“If you get past that stage, a local, flexible and compassionate employer might work out for you at the start, but then things change,” O’Brien added.

Last summer, a nationwide survey conducted by Excel Recruitment found that almost 60 per cent of Irish couples with children said that one partner gave up work due to the cost of childcare, and in the majority of cases that person was a woman.

Parents in urban areas, particularly in Dublin, face creche fees that often surpass €1,350 per month, it found.

The issue was a “structural, nationwide” one that “requires State investment to address”, O’Brien said.

“Not a commercialisation of it or leaving it up to the market . . . The lack of good-quality, affordable childcare leaves families in poverty. It’s a colossal barrier.”

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