When Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March 2014, Pavel says he knew he had to leave Moscow in “act of protest”.
Born in a small town just outside the Russian capital, Pavel had trained as a software engineer and had recently joined a major Russian company, but immediately began planning his escape after the ‘madness’ of what was happening. had passed in its neighboring country, Ukraine.
The international community regards the annexation as illegitimate and recognizes the peninsula, along the northern Black Sea coast, as Ukrainian.
“When it happened, I realized that I had no future in Russia. I decided that I had to stop paying taxes there, and in 2015 I found a good job offer. job in Ireland, so I moved here and never went back,” he says.
Two years later, while working at a small Irish tech start-up, the company hired a Ukrainian software engineer, Nikolay, who soon became Pavel’s partner.
It’s strange that I left Ukraine first and now Ukraine comes directly to me. But it’s our time
Nikolay was born in Dnipro, a city in central Ukraine, and took up programming as a hobby as a teenager.
Nikolay “managed to do a few contracts here and there” before applying to an Irish company in 2017. “They accepted me, which was unexpected and they arranged for me to move here,” he says .
It was “a happy accident”, Pavel says of the couple meeting, but their relationship is “a sensitive subject” as they are gay and they remain closed to friends and family in their home country.
In a ranking of the most LGBTQ-friendly European nations in the 2022 “Rainbow Europe” Index, Russia came third from last and Ukraine eighth from second to last, out of 40 countries.
Ireland has been ‘a place of welcome’ for Pavel and Nikolay, although in recent months, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, people are ‘sometimes surprised when they ask where we come and say, ‘I’m from Russia.’ and he’s from Ukraine,” says Pavel.
“Russia has started the war and Ukraine is defending itself. But this does not mean that everyone should immediately turn into enemies. There was a lot of pressure and uncertainty created by the war, but it didn’t affect our relationship because it’s pretty obvious who’s right and who’s wrong in the situation. I don’t think any reasonable person can support Russia.
It is “quite common” for Ukrainians and Russians to be in a relationship and although it “may surprise people who are not from these regions, Ukrainians and Russians have shared families for hundreds of years”, adds Nikolay . “He is from Russia, but he is not on the side of Russia. If he was, he would still be here and he would be a completely different person.
Lately there has been “anti-Russian feeling” in Ireland, but Pavel says he “won’t complain about it because I find it understandable. It’s the people’s fault to some extent because they vote for Putin and don’t challenge the propaganda. But it is also the fault of the West. There were chances of preventing this war and chances of intervening.
As a Ukrainian, Nikolay believes Ireland’s response to the invasion was ‘ultimately insufficient’ as it ruled out sending Irish arms, despite calls from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for more. military aid from Western countries. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said in March that Ireland was ‘facilitating’ the European Peace Facility which he noted was for the first time deploying ‘lethal weapons’ to Ukraine to defend his country against Russian soldiers .
Pavel adds: “There are always exchanges with Russia and Russian companies always operate here. It was possible for Ireland to do more.
However, the couple say the humanitarian support from Ireland has been “outstanding”.
More than 43,000 people have arrived in the state from Ukraine under the Temporary Protection Directive since the invasion began.
Pavel and Nikolay have accepted three people into their home an hour from Dublin. Three generations of women now live with the couple – a grandmother, a mother and her four-year-old daughter.
At the start of the war, Pavel and Nikolay attended as many protests as possible, but “doing our little part here in our house seems more important to us right now,” says Pavel.
The Russians will continue. This kind of rhetoric is mainly useful for Russia, because it sends the message that if they can take a small piece from us, then they can take a small piece from elsewhere.
“I’m glad there are still people protesting. But the little girl, she needs a lot of attention, so we’re not going to protest so much now.
The couple have given up two bedrooms of their three-bedroom family home and are not asking them for any rent.
“It’s strange that I left Ukraine first and now Ukraine comes directly to me. But this is our time,” says Nikolay.
The family has been with them since March. There had been some difficulty in finding a suitable family at first, as some refugees had ‘rejected’ the idea of living with a gay couple.
“We asked the volunteers to find us someone who really likes or wants to live with homosexuals. They said that they only know people and they are the ones who live with us now, ”says Nikolay.
Both men are critical of a recent letter from Sabina Higgins to The Irish Times calling for peace talks in Ukraine.
“It may seem reasonable that it’s a good idea to try to find some kind of solution that will work for everyone, maybe even sacrificing parts of Ukraine. But we must always keep in mind that Russian propaganda openly says that it wants a big empire and to restore the Soviet Union or even to expand the borders more than before,” says Pavel.
“I think the letter thought rationally, but the Russian authorities don’t think rationally, they think like crazy.”
Nikolay agrees and believes that Russia “will never follow any kind of peace agreement”.
“The Russians will continue. This type of rhetoric is mainly useful for Russia because it sends the message that if they can take a small slice from us, they can take a small slice elsewhere.
“The collective West is making a huge mistake by showing any weakness to Putin,” adds Pavel, saying tougher measures should be introduced and trade should “come to a complete halt”.
Pavel believes the war would end if Western troops intervened and that Ireland should reconsider its neutrality and “think of NATO membership as protection”.
“We must stop this war and not let it burn slowly for years and years.”