Hope after a year of turmoil

EVENTS have been held to mark how lives have been transformed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

It is now a year since the first Ukrainian refugees from the war started to arrive in the UK, and more than 400 are now living in South Gloucestershire, including almost 200 children, with more than 1,300 living in the wider region.

As they deal with the challenges of trying to start a new life – one they hope will be temporary, ending with a return home – there have also been many challenges for the people who have stepped up to help them.

Mangotsfield mum Vera Stadon, who was born in Ukraine but has lived in the UK since 1997, started an appeal to collect aid at the start of the Russian invasion in February last year.

Having collected several lorry and van-loads of donations at Emersons Green Village Hall in the early weeks of the war, she set up a group, Bristol Aid to Ukraine, which now has its own donated minibus.

The bus travels regularly to Ukraine with supplies, returning with refugees who have places to stay under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Among the first passengers was Vera’s mother, who is 76 and lived close to a Ukrainian military base, but was not fit enough to stand in the long queues of people waiting to leave the country during the early weeks of the invasion.

The minibus is also used to take Ukrainians living locally on days out to places of interest like Cheddar Gorge, to help them experience the British countryside and history.

The trips are part of the work Vera and fellow volunteers are doing to help refugees who have reached South Gloucestershire find their feet, giving advice and helping them make social connections.

A hub for Ukrainians living locally operates every Friday between 11am and 1pm at the St James church hall in Richmond Road, Mangotsfield.

Vera thanked the church, which stepped forward to offer the hall after the Voice published her appeal for a venue last year.

She said: “It’s a place for people to gather and not be alone, to be around somebody who speaks their language, to share their thoughts and hopes about the situation, or take their mind off it.”

Vera and two other Ukrainian-born women have worked with churches and councils to organise a series of cultural events relating to Ukraine and the invasion.

They included a day-long event in the Galleries shopping centre in Broadmead, which included exhibitions of paintings, ceramics and other creations by Ukrainian artists, photographs and items from the war.

There were performances by Czhedrik, an all-female choir of refugees living in the Bristol area and Oleksandr Balabanov, a 16-year-old Ukrainian singer who represented his country at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2020 and is now living in London.

Other events included a service at St Mary’s church in Yate and a travelling exhibition, Ukraine Unconquered, which was at the New Room museum in Broadmead until April 1.

Vera said: “As sad as it is, it’s nice to see this big community, with lots of children, able to come together.

“I know that as soon as the war finishes most of them will go home, but it’s nice for my children to get to know Ukrainian children, learn some words and feel a sense of belonging.

“It has been a very difficult year for Ukraine, and we’ve had terrible losses, of civilians and the army.

“Having looked very grim and hopeless, a year on the situation is more positive in a way.

“A year ago nobody believed Ukraine would survive – now the whole world is supporting Ukraine. 

“We know we need to win this war, and we believe that we will.”

Donations towards Bristol Aid to Ukraine’s work can be made via the group’s Facebook page.