Chris Ward, an English teacher, who was living and teaching in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv left 2 weeks ago to avoid being caught up in the war. Having returned to his parents’ home in Shiplake he has launched a website UKforUkraine.org which provides information on different ways people can help and donate.
At the end of January, when the British Embassy in Ukraine were recommending non-essential staff to leave, Chris decided to go stay with a friend in Tbilisi in Georgia and continued to work remotely from there. Chris said, “I didn’t believe it would actually happen but decided the level of risk was high enough to best leave Kyiv until everything calmed down, like it had the year before. At the time, I just packed some essentials. I thought I would return.”
Chris went out to Ukraine six years ago after leaving a Project Manager role in property development. Chris said, “Curiosity took me out there. I was in my early 30s and I wanted to put my life on a different track and go somewhere completely unknown. It was a good time to go abroad as I didn’t have any ties here. There’s a lot of misconception about that part of the world. Unless you go there however, you won’t really know what it is like.”
Planning originally to out for the Kyiv International Short Film Festival because he had started to write music for film, Chris was then invited to be a guest at the festival on the international film jury competition and gave a workshop on how to write music for film. He loved it so much he decided to stay.
“Over the last year or so I could see the potential of English as a business. You’re helping people in Ukraine do business with Europe,” explains Chris. Chris started an English school called SNAX with an American from Californian last April and which had just started to grow.
Talking about what is happening in Ukraine, Chris said, “It is tragic, it is difficult to talk about because I can say it is so horrible and terrible but really for me it’s faces, names and places. Yesterday I found out that my friend Sasha was killed in shelling in Irpin. She was part of the FoxNews team. This war is real. It’s happening to people and places I know and love. I don’t know how they will be in the future. If I can go home. We are forced into a new reality.”
According to Chris, “the Ukrainians are recruiting volunteers and will soon have more soldiers than the Russians if not already, though the Russians have more heavy weaponry. The Ukrainians are fighting for their homes, families and country. The Russians don’t really know what they are fighting for.”
Chris is in touch with his friends and students every day. Chris comments, “My students are finding it hard to find accommodation in western Ukraine so that often families and friends are grouped into one room. In Kyiv it is starting to get difficult to buy food. The further east, the harder it gets. Their future has been thrown into the air.”
Good friend Andrii, a CEO of an Architecture Engineering Company who designed international airports has fled Kyiv with his family. He told Chris, he had uncontrollable fear thinking about the war and his family. He didn’t want his sons to see the bombing. He had to leave his 85 year-old mother-in-law behind with a month’s supply of food as she would not go. He drove for 3 days from Kyiv to Chernivtsi in the car, which normally would take 1 day. He told Chris “it was the hardest journey of my life”. He planned a route with multiple places to stay. If he didn’t reach them he offered it to his friends. He was in total shock. He arrived safely and is now thinking about his future and how to keep his business going. He had mixed emotions. He said he has witnessed in the past 2 weeks “a transformation to a new Ukraine. It’s like a miracle – a new nation has been born. The strength of people is unbelievable I’m so proud everyone has come together.”
UKforUkraine website not only provides information on international humanitarian organisations but also focuses on Ukrainian organisations that people can donate to, along with social media links to see what work they are doing. There are also many local initiatives across Europe set up by individuals who have gofundme or Justgiving pages which the website has links to where you can read about individual stories.
Chris has also set up an Instagram page instagram.com/ukforukraine to promote fundraising events for Ukraine throughout the UK taking place. Chris hopes to organise some local fundraising events in the next few weeks.
More strikes on Kyiv are taking place every day. Chris has been told his flat is still standing. He commented, “My home is in Kyiv and I love living there, it is a beautiful city. I hope they can hold out against the Russians. I think they can.”