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One year on.

A year ago today, war broke out in Ukraine.

Many things have been written about this war, journalists reporting from the front line, academic articles, propaganda, fake news, NGO reports, countless statistics complied, Facebook posts, Instagram stories and even Tik Tok videos.  After a year of war and a year of Hope and Aid Direct delivering aid to the region I wondered what I could write that hadn’t already been written, it transpired that the answer to that question was right under my nose.

Last April, I found myself in Bucharest.  It was a trip that had been planned for some time, an Easter weekend away with my wife that turned into a busman’s holiday.  We made trips to the Ukrainian border and the central train and bus stations to see the effects of people leaving Ukraine for other parts of Europe.

It was that weekend that we first spoke to Alina and Vlad, a Ukrainian couple that were looking to come to the UK as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme.  Alina is 28 and from Sumy in the North East, her village 5 miles from the Russian border and Vlad, also 28, is from Odessa.  

Cathedral in the city of Sumy, above.

Sumy facts and figures

  • Population:  256,474 (2022 est.) according to the 2021 census, making it the 23rd-largest in the country.
  • Sumy was founded in the 1650s by the Cossacks.
  • The city centre is dominated by the large cathedral of the Saviour's Transfiguration. It is a neoclassical structure of the 18th century, extensively repaired and reconstructed in 1858 and in the 1880s, when the 56-metre-high bell tower (180 ft) was added. 
  • Sumy is twinned with:

 Celle, Germany (1990)
 Gorzów Wielkopolski, Poland (2006)
 Kutaisi, Georgia (2018)
 Lublin, Poland (2002)
 Vratsa, Bulgaria (1966)
 Xinxiang, China (2019)
 Zhuji, China (2019)


              We had a video call with them over that weekend and all parties decided that we would be a good fit for each other, and that we should push forward with the visa application and a few weeks later they arrived in the UK.  It has a been a privilege to be able to help them in our small way and I hope that we have made friends for life.

              Odesa opera and ballet theatre, above.

              Odesa facts and figures

              • As of January 2021 Odesa's population was approximately 1,010,537, the third largest city in Ukraine
              • On January 25, 2023, its historic city centre was declared a World Heritage Site and added to the List of World Heritage in Danger by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in recognition of its influence on cinema, literature, and the arts
              • In 1794, the modern city of Odesa was founded by a decree of the Russian empress Catherine the Great
              • In the 1991 Ukrainian independence referendum 85.38% of Odesa Oblast voted for independence
              • Odesa is situated on terraced hills overlooking a small harbor on the Black Sea in the Gulf of Odesa. The city's location on the coast of the Black Sea has also helped to create a booming tourist industry in Odesa.
              • Odesa is twinned with:
              Alexandria, Egypt (1968)
              Baltimore, United States (1975)
              Chișinău, Moldova (1994) 
              Constanța, Romania (1991) 
              Genoa, Italy (1972)
              Haifa, Israel (1992) 
              Istanbul, Turkey (1997) 
              Kolkata, India (1986)
              Liverpool, United Kingdom (1957)
              Łódź, Poland (1993)
              Marseille, France (1973)
              Nicosia, Cyprus (1996)
              Oulu, Finland (1957)
              Piraeus, Greece (1993) 
              Qingdao, China (1993)
              Regensburg, Germany (1990)
              Split, Croatia (1964)
              Szeged, Hungary (1977)
              Vancouver, Canada (1944)
              Varna, Bulgaria (1958)
              Yerevan, Armenia (1995)
              Yokohama, Japan (1968)


              In a war that has ripped families apart and moved people all around the world, new relationships have been created, new employment opportunities created, new cultural ties made, stories shared, Christmas presents exchanged, recipes swapped (I mean, who knew that you should roast your chicken in milk, see below) and new and exciting impacts on communities, towns and cities along the way. 


              Garlicky chicken in milk

              Mix 2tsp salt with 1 teaspoon of black pepper and ½ teaspoon each of dried basil, ground cumin, ground coriander and ground fenugreek.  Rub all over chicken and leave to sit for an hour or so.

              Place chicken in Dutch oven and add 1.5 litres of milk, a whole head of garlic with its top cut off a bay leaf and some strips of lemon zest.  Bring the pot to a simmer on the hob then roast covered on 170c for around an hour, then uncover, baste and roast for another 30 mins or so depending on the size of the bird, maybe basting once or twice as you go.  You can strain and reheat the milk sauce and use as gravy.  It is often served with a Lyok dressing (one to Google).


              Anyway, I digress. It dawned on me that the person to write their views on this war, was not me but them, people who could actually relate to what had happened over the past year, viewed from the perspective of someone who had to leave a country.  Ukraine just over a year ago was not a war zone, it wasn’t a country with a modern history of aggression and violence it was just a modern vibrant country that all of a sudden got turned on its head.  

              I asked Alina (due to her better English) to put pen to paper to express how she felt.  Alina agreed to do this and after some thought about where to begin she sat and spoke to Yana, another Ukrainian, a friend of hers who lives locally.  They sat down to have a frank conversation about how they fled the war, how they arrived here, how they live and when they hope to return home. The answer to the last question was the most difficult, as they said that not everyone knows this, but everyone dreams about it.  This is what else they said:

              For the purpose of this newsletter, I have not edited the text, it is as it was written.

              The worst thing is that no one knows how long the war will continue. And some people just have nowhere to go back to. They lost their homes, relatives, their former lives.

              It is difficult to understand a person who, in a few hours, has to pack his whole life into one suitcase and run into the unknown. It is even more difficult to understand a mother who got her dead daughter out of the rubble from an incoming rocket, and yet they just slept peacefully in their apartment and made plans for life ... it is difficult to understand the feelings when you try to escape from a hot spot with your husband, but your the car is shot in the middle of the field and you have to leave your wounded husband unconscious and run under fire through the minefield behind the drone that is trying to take you to safety (the real story of “Follow me”). It is difficult to understand a woman who, holding back her tears, talks about how she sat with a child in the basement, said goodbye to her parents and husband with thoughts that she might never see them again, and how through the whole city under the explosions they went to the train station to flee the country. It is difficult to understand a young guy who could have a happy future with his family, a successful career, but he is now in a wet and cold trench and in a moment a shell will fly there and he will be gone forever .. what is he thinking at this moment ..? And it is just as difficult to explain in words the fear and anxiety of Ukrainians here abroad that we experience when we call our relatives in Ukraine after heavy shelling of our hometown, but they do not pick up the phone ... It's scary! And there are thousands of such stories ... and each of us has his own: someone saw with his own eyes all the realities of the war and experienced this pain for himself, some left the country right after February 24th. But each of us has a sore wound in our soul which is called WAR. Not a day passes without her getting sick, our life will never be the same because the laws of justice in the world, in which we have believed all our lives, do not work now. Everything has changed. Today, many Ukrainians live with the thought: “We live for today, we don’t think ahead. We are alive today, and thank God.”

              Thousands of Ukrainians lost their homes, millions were forced to leave their country. They had nowhere to go. And then many countries of the world, including Britain, opened their hearts to us. Millions of Britons gave us a helping hand, accepted us in their country, gave us a roof over our heads, made us feel at home.

              Gratitude does not have any unit of measurement, and when they talk about infinite gratitude, they include in this concept a wide range of the brightest feelings. We are all Ukrainians sincerely thank you for your invaluable and timely help! Thank you so much for your generosity, generosity and hard work! In such difficult life moments, you begin to especially appreciate simple human attention and a desire to help.

              Now we are trying to arrange our lives as best we can. Many have to start over. It's not easy, but we keep going.

              Thank you Yana and Alina.

              Alina highlights the help we have given here in the UK and how hard it has been for them to come to terms with the day to day.  I am sure it must be the same for the many tens of thousands who have made their way to the UK and the millions that are displaced, four million of which are residing now in the EU.

              Of course we cant forget the other refugees who suffer the same fate of not having somewhere to call home.  Recent data points to 966,000 asylum applications in the EU in 2022.  Worldwide at the end of 2021 UNHCR have a figure of 89.3 million people worldwide forcibly displaced.  With the war in Ukraine and now the terrible scenes we are seeing in Turkey and Syria that number will of course dramatically increased.

              We do what we can do, working with a couple of key partners, notably Alla from Ukraine on Palms we have been part of 40 articulated truck loads to Ukraine in the past year and we remain committed to supporting Ukraine going forward, the next truck will be going out in mid-March. 

              Of course we can only do it with your help and to every single person who has touched any part of our operation over the past year we thank you and Alina, Vlad, Yana and Ivan thank you, for helping people in their country.


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