|"We never dreamed it would be real for us!"
Uliana and Alina are two women from Ukraine who have been a couple for over a decade, but they had to keep their relationship a secret until they fled war and moved to Ireland last year. This St Patrick’s Day marks one year since they landed safely on the Emerald Isle, and we are delighted that they wanted to share their story with GCN.
The pair met online through a dating website called Mamba while they were living in their home nation. They exchanged messages and went out for tea, chatting effortlessly for hours. After that initial meeting, they continued to meet up again and again, dating privately and pretending to be friends. They were able to live together in Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine, but they couldn’t tell anyone that they were a couple. They said, “To everyone else, we were sisters, we were friends. For ten years!”
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, the couple made the decision to move away. It was very difficult to leave their families behind, as they decided to remain in Ukraine, but living in Ireland allowed them to get married in November 2022, something they had previously only dreamed of.
Their families in Ukraine know they are together in Ireland and probably assume that they are a couple, but they never speak about it. For now, their wedding remains a secret, but the pair hopes that after the war, they can return home and share the news of their marriage. GCN spoke with the couple to hear more about their story of leaving Ukraine, and their experience of finding community in Ireland.
How did you feel when you moved to Ireland?
We came in March on St Patricks Day. It was very cold, and the Irish people are amazing because they don’t feel the cold. For the first few months, we lived in County Clare, which was a shock after Kyiv!
This is a completely different life: measured, calm. Everything was very interesting and beautiful. We had never seen such a huge beach by the ocean with so many people walking their dogs at the same time. Kilkee is a paradise for dogs, where they can run freely along the beautiful beach and feel happy.
How did you find queer community?
When we arrived in Ireland, we were accommodated in a beautiful place called Clare near the ocean. After some time, we learned that in Ireland, we have the same rights as heterosexual people, and we wanted to meet someone who could support us in this direction, so we found LGBT Ireland online and wrote Collette a letter.
She responded very quickly and supported us a lot, helping us find a host family so that we could move to Dublin. In Dublin, we met many friends, and the LGBT Ireland community was very important to us.
When did you realise you would no longer need to hide your relationship?
It didn’t happen immediately. The first feelings of being able to not be afraid and be open occurred when LGBT Ireland found a host family for us — a lesbian couple from Estonia.
They have been living in Ireland for over 10 years, and they gave us the feeling of freedom and immense happiness to feel free from the danger of being judged for your orientation—it’s a wonderful feeling. They offered us accommodation in Blanchardstown, and we’ve lived there since very happily. We are so grateful to the Irish country and people that we are very safe.
Tell us about your wedding day!
We got married in the Dublin registration office on November 16, 2022. We’d never imagined it would be possible to get married, but we saw the information and decided to try.
Our hosts from Estonia were witnesses, and together with the guests we drank champagne by the river, after the registration of our marriage. We had nine guests and our hosts prepared a surprise dinner with Ukrainian colours and food at their home in Blanchardstown. It was very beautiful and pleasant. We felt very happy that day.
Once upon a time, we dreamed of going to an island and perhaps having a fake ceremony, and now we got married in Ireland. We never dreamed it would be real for us!
What has been your favourite part of being in Ireland?
First and foremost, the kind and responsive people from Ireland who we met on our way.
We were also amazed by the stunning nature. The culture of communication particularly impressed us, and the fact that people are very open. In Dublin, we like how people take care of nature and love to plant a lot of flowers around their homes, which lifts the mood.
What do you miss most about Kyiv?
We miss our parents a lot and worry about them. Alina’s father is 76 and looks after bees. He refuses to leave his village in the country, and we are very scared for him because he lives close to the front line.
It’s reassuring that thanks to the internet, we can talk to them almost every day when there isn’t a power outage and there is no threat of a missile strike. We miss our home, where there are many memories left.
Do you have plans for St Patrick’s Day this year?
St Patrick’s Day became a special day for us as well, since we arrived in Ireland a year ago on this day. When our plane was landing in Dublin, we saw a rainbow through the window, took a photo, and thought it was a lucky sign for us. Ireland turned out to be the country we fell in love with at first sight.
When we arrived, we needed to arrange our documents, and then travel to Killkee. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to feel the atmosphere of this holiday. This year, we are eager to join the Irish people and the celebration in Dublin. We think it will be amazing.
How will you celebrate your first wedding anniversary?
We would like to invite our hosts, Masha and Eugenia, to some beautiful place and celebrate this day together. We are very grateful to them for everything they have done for us. They are an amazing couple who also got married last summer, so now we have two anniversaries to celebrate this year.
What are your hopes for Ukraine one year from now?
We strongly believe that the war will soon end with Ukraine’s victory. We hope that peaceful people will be safe and that we will see our parents.
This war has brought a lot of grief to the Ukrainian people, and we couldn’t believe that such horror could happen in the modern world. But the strong spirit of the Ukrainian people and their desire to fight for their independence and development, as well as the support of other nations, gives us faith that justice will triumph and the terrorist state of the Russian Federation will be punished for every crime against humanity.
Maybe after the war, it will be better for gay people in Ukraine. Like Ireland, we hope. It is very important for us.
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