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‘All Ukrainian refugees have lost careers, houses, friends, language, prospects’

New to the Parish: Sergii Dzialyk from Ukraine came to Ireland in 2022

How life has changed for Sergii Dzialyk in the past couple of years. The 49-year-old actor had a good life in Kharkiv, Ukraine, with a thriving career having performed in more than 60 TV series and films, as well as advertising and voiceovers. He mentions Masha Novikova’s film Glorious Revolution, shot in Kyiv, which won a prize in Cannes in 2022. He and his wife, Victoria, a radio presenter, had recently renovated their large house in central Kharkiv, buying new furniture and appliances. He had a good income, and life with their two small boys was stable.

After Russia invaded, life changed dramatically. He describes planes circling and dropping bombs. His home is 37km from the Russian border. “I don’t want to dramatise. The situation was very hard. There was no anti-aircraft.” But he stresses “it’s not the same like Mariupol. I think we are lucky” because what happened there didn’t happen in Kharkiv.

His wife and two sons, now nine and six, left in April 2022, fleeing to Ireland as they had Lithuanian friends here. He stayed, hoping for change, hoping he could work, and “I hoped to save my home, from robbers. I think not about my life but what I have”, his house and car. Eventually, in June 2022 he had to leave too. “There were no prospects. No reason to stay. It was dangerous. I didn’t see my children. I didn’t see my wife. There was no work, no offers. In that time people think only about how to survive.”

Later his brother and family, and their mother (77), followed. A piano teacher in Ukraine, she didn’t want to come. “She cried. She say no. I want to die in my country.” But without family support, staying wasn’t possible.


These days they live in the Maldron Hotel Newlands Cross, on the edge of Dublin There are about 40 refugees, along with other guests, in the 300-room hotel. At one point they thought they’d return in 2023, but now realise “our life [in Ukraine] is thrown out”.

He works part-time as a porter at the hotel, and studies multimedia at Stillorgan College of Further Education. He likes it, but “it’s very hard. Younger people are familiar with new technologies, digital process.”

His children are enjoying school. But he and his wife of 15 years have separated; the pressures of war, uprooting life, living in one small room, have impacts. “Our relationship is broken, because so many reasons. It’s sad. So many stress, so many problems.” He’s still in the same hotel as his family, and thanks to “our good manager” now shares a room with another man.

“It’s difficult when you have not your private space. Our free space, it’s the bathroom.” All the same he says, “It all could be worse than now”.

His English has improved, but he uses a translation app occasionally in our conversation. “I continue trying to improving my English. It’s hard in my age. I have online classes. I’ve watched many movies in English, stand-up.”

He and one of his sons worked on revoicing Cartoon Saloon’s animated feature Puffin Rock and The New Friends into Ukrainian. The 18 roles were cast from 150 respondents from all over Ireland. Though he’s done lots of voiceovers, “dubbing for me is new experience”. He demonstrates the croaky voice he used. ТА НОВІ ДРУЗІ premiered at Dublin’s Lighthouse this month and will be available to Ukrainian communities in Ireland.

Their Kharkiv home is still undamaged, his former neighbours say, but the city is even more dangerous, “because now they active bomb target”.

“I dream to go to my home. I want to change my accommodation circumstances. But all other parts of life here, it’s very good. Very good people. I like this climate.”

I didn’t expect Irish people so polite, so open. It’s strange. They always speak to you, they always smile to you, always, all people. It’s good strange

He says “the big difference between Irish people and Ukrainian people, Russian people or post-Soviet Union countries. Always, all our life, is struggling, fighting, trying to survive in life. You don’t have social payments, they are very small, you have not a possibility to not work.” He talks about constant struggles to earn money. “It is maybe very rich country, but cheap country.” Some are very rich, but “most people have not good income. But I have good income” as an actor in Ukraine, “much better than here”. Shortly before the war he got a part in a series which would have paid well, but war disrupted TV production.

Dzialyk says: “I didn’t expect Irish people so polite, so open. It’s strange. They always speak to you, they always smile to you, always, all people. It’s good strange.” He mentions visiting Moldova, and goes into performance mode: grumpy, unsmiling, dour. “It’s traditional. It’s rules. You always have a bad mood!” He says this is the case with all post-Soviet Union countries. “We’re always in bad mood, always serious, never smile. Never talk to strangers.”

Ukraine too? “It was slightly different but the same” before the war, “but now, all people in Ukraine have bad mood, always”.

Dzialyk himself seems open and pleasant. “I want to live my life happy. I like this, it’s good. It’s very perfect.” He describes what we regard as normal pleasantries with Irish strangers, “Hello, how are you? And smiling to me, all people, always smiling, always with big respect. It’s very good.”

He’s tickled his older son learns Irish. “It’s good. I think all people should have as much as possible languages. His English increased very fast. Not like me!”

Irish people have good mental health, from living without anxiety. They understand that next year or next month or next day they have normal life. In Ukraine, people are always fighting for survival, even before the invasion

His situation is hard, “but I try to find positive things in this”. His porter job is one “without big responsibility” compared with acting, which is “always big stress. There is a lot of competition.”

Before the war, in Kharkiv, Russian and Ukrainian backgrounds were “50/50”, he says. People used to get along. “We didn’t divide people” – Ukrainian, Russian, Jewish, Georgian, in mixed communities. “The invasion is very crazy. I still don’t understand why.”

Getting used to food in Ireland was harder for the children. Making borscht from Irish products “it’s not the same. It’s not good, it’s not bad.” Here, “you stew from beef, for me it’s not smelling good. Cream soup tastes for me strange.” The hotel’s food, which they pay for weekly, is good.

He didn’t know much about Ireland, or other countries, not having travelled much. He marvels now: “I thought Ireland is part of United Kingdom, the same place, the same people! I know you’re very different people. Now I understand your attitude to England.”

He has bought a car, saving earnings and borrowing from friends and family to do so. “It’s good for my life.” They have travelled in Ireland.

He talks about Irish people having “good mental health”, from living without anxiety. “They understand that next year or next month or next day they have normal life.” In Ukraine, people are “always fighting for survival”, even before the invasion, without much money, running between two jobs. When Irish people may have relationship or medical problems, there is support, he says. “Our people are always waiting for this dark day in their life when you catch some illness and should pay.” Public healthcare is very poor, and people have to pay doctors additional money. “It’s most corrupt area now.” All the same he’s surprised to need prescriptions here for over-the-counter medicines in Ukraine.

Language barriers mean making friends is hard. He’s friendly with a Croatian colleague. “My English is not good. His English is not good. And we understand perfectly, because we use only simple words!”

School in Ukraine is “very strict, big pressure. For me, Irish school is perfect. The school approach, how they try to involve people, to learn all things. They go to church.” Now before eating, his son says grace. It’s not all classroom study. They have games in the yard, trips to church or Croke Park; “I like how teachers try to help all people grow up” adapting to children’s needs or personalities.

He says “all Ukrainian refugees have the same story. We lost career, we lost house, lost friends, lost environments, lost language, lost prospects.”

It was hard moving in his late-40s. “All our dream was broken.” He doesn’t know when he can go home, and thinks the war will go on for more than two years. “I cannot buy a home here” and career prospects are uncertain. “I’m not sure about my future. But day by day. I’m sure about my children, it’s very good for my children. They can do this and can be part of this community. Because for them, they catch like sponge, the rules, how it all works. I’m not sure they should go back. I think perspective in Ukraine is very foggy.” It’s a Russian phrase, he says: our perspective is foggy, so we cannot see.

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