Moving from a “small town” of 40,000 people in the suburbs of  Kyiv to Teemore might have been a bit of a culture shock for the Shevchenko family who have made Fermanagh their home for now, but they say their minds are still firmly on Ukraine.

Iryna and Taras Shevchenko, along with their sons Sasha (8) and Slawomir (7, nicknamed ‘Slawek’) arrived in Fermanagh in May, 2022.

The boys are enrolled in school at St Mary’s PS, Teemore, and both Iryna and Taras are working in nearby A1 Transport.

However, despite the peace and tranquillity of Fermanagh, they say their minds are never far away from their wartorn homeland.

The family described how every call or message from home makes them tense as they await bad news.

Speaking of the family’s anxiety, Taras said: “You always wait for bad news, always. Every call you get, or every message you open, you think someone has died.

“When you are scrolling your Facebook page, [you learn about] people who you know [who have died], or they come back without legs, or back injured with no arms, or some mental health problem.

“You live in the process. We have moved from there, but mentally we are still there.”

Echoing her husband, Iryna said: “All day, our country is on the news, what happened. We can’t relax.

“The first time I had dreams of Russians bombs falling on my head, because it was reality, it had a huge effect on my nervous system and my memories.”

Taras explained that the family home is close to where some of the invasion is being fought.

He said: “Back in Ukraine, the battlefield was at our house – our house and city are next to the capital, and we have several military bases and airports, and they [Russia] tried to attack every airport or base.

“The Russian air force was above our house. Next to our house is a large field and they [soldiers] hid there.

“They flew low to wait for others, but the house and the doors were jumping; it felt like it was next to you. The doors were big, large massive doors – 150kg – they were just jumping.”

Iryna spoke of her concern for her family, including an adult daughter who lives in Kiev with her partner, and a brother who is serving the Ukrainian army on the battlefield.


Both she and her husband volunteered in Ukraine when the war broke out, helping with military support as well as food and medicine supplies. During that period, the children lived in central Ukraine with their grandmother.

Explaining how they made the decision to leave Ukraine, Iryna said: “My mum every day called, ‘How are you, you need to go, what will I do with your children if something happens to you?’”

The family then decided to seek help, with Iryna describing their leaving Ukraine as “a miracle”.

“It was Easter time in your country. I opened Facebook, and the first post was from an English man, from England, and it said, ‘I can help Ukrainians find sponsors’.

“I did not realise which country this man was in – I just sent him a message, ‘Can you help?’

“He asked me: ‘What do you think of Northern Ireland?’”

Iryna admitted she knew very little about the North and laughed as she said: “In story lessons in school, I remembered about Ireland – it was very close to Great Britain, and I knew about St. Patrick’s Day and leprechauns!”

The family came to Fermanagh through the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme supported by the UK government and were sponsored to come by local businessman Colin Wilson, Managing Director of Teemore Engineering.

Colin called to the Shevchenko home and joined them at the kitchen table, where he explained why his family offered their home to the Ukrainians.

He said: “We built a new house, and were getting ready to move out of this one, and the war kicked off. About a month into it, we were like, ‘Will we rent this out, or put it up for [a refugee sponsorship] scheme?’

“There was a lady on Facebook, Lorraine Ferguson, and she did the meeting part, and my secretary in the company did all the paperwork.”

Asked why his family decided to generously provide a home to the Ukrainian family, he said: “We thought we’d give someone a chance.”

Iryna immediately added: “They gave us a huge chance – it’s a very safe place for the children. Colin helped us from different sides of our life to adapt here.”

Explaining some of the practical ways that he helped to support the family, Colin said: “They weren’t here that long, maybe three or four days, and we were like, ‘We need to get them a car – it’s not going to work without a car’.”

Popular visitor

With Colin a popular visitor to the house, both Sasha and Slawek came downstairs to greet him. Before leaving the family home, he said: “I am happy they are getting on well.”

The family are unsure how long they will be in Fermanagh due to the UK’s current refugee arrangements.

Ukrainains were granted a three-year stay in the UK when the war broke out, and with less than two years left on their allocated time, and with the war still raging on their doorstep at home, it is an uncertain time ahead for the family.

Iryna said: “We don’t know what decision the UK government will make about us. Not all of Ukrainians can apply for a ‘Skilled’ visa”.

To qualify for this visa, applicants must meet a minimum annual wage level of more than £30,000, with the application process also expensive to go through.

Iryna added: “I checked some of the jobs, and I couldn’t find any ... for my occupation with the salary for what I need for this visa.”

Both Iryna and Taras hold Masters degrees in their professions in Ukraine, where Iryna worked as an accountant, and Taras worked

in marketing.

For now, Fermanagh is home, and where they are making their life. Iryna will begin a course later this month in South West College, and the boys are settling in well at school.

“The boys are completely happy in school. Slavek goes to the football team; it is Gaelic football, so it’s new to them – they played soccer in Ukraine. Each lesson he is better.”

Proud mum Iryna showed this newspaper a framed photo of one

of the boys with his ‘Pupil of the Week’ certificate proudly displayed beside a painting of sunflowers in

the window.

The boys chatted about how they liked school, animals, and their new friends.

One thing they have also adapted to are cows and sheep, as the large amount of livestock in Fermanagh was a surprise for the family.

Iryna added: “My boys’ first time with cows was very exciting! They were tired because they helped Colin feed the cows.”

However, the family do have a home comfort now – their two black cats, one of which is 14 years old, arrived in July having travelled from Ukraine via Poland and London before arriving in Teemore.

After the family’s interview finished, they guided this reporter and photographer around their home for a picture, settling on their front garden and its scenic country side, surrounded with livestock and Lough Erne in sight.

Iryna simply said: “This is my new favourite view.”