A Packed Roomful of Kindness for Ukrainians

D:two was packed out on Wednesday evening with local residents who wanted to hear how they could help with with the war in the Ukraine.  It was an emotional evening opening with Olga and Maria, two Ukrainians who have fled their home to come and live here.

Olga said, “It’s a honour to be here today.  I feel so grateful to you for helping the people of Ukraine.  I woke up on 24 February to sirens which I thought were ambulances.  It was really tough decision to leave.  I have many relatives who have refused to leave their home.  I have come here with my UK boyfriend.  We drove through Hungary and flew to the UK from there.”

Maria said, “When your Mum comes into your room saying getting up we have to carry our stuff because the sirens are there.  You’re thinking Mum you are just worried it is not possible.  One day event I wasn’t sure it was actually happening, I didn’t even know we had a basement as a shelter.  It is very difficult to say how it is, not because I am very sensitive and I can’t talk to my psychiatrist how do I feel.  I want to protect my relatives that are still there, my sister, my nephew, my beloved who is on the front, my Godfather.  I am so thankful to you all, listening to us and interested and caring about what is going on.  People who are physically far from this it is really difficult to know what it is really going on.   I wish you never see missiles going above your head, it is very very scary and there is no place 100% where you can survive.  Very thankful to me here.”

Kris Kandiah hosted the evening.  He has been working with the government over the last 18 months on supporting refugees coming to the UK from Hong Kong.

After Olga and Maria spoke, Councillor David Eggleton talked about the donations that had been received at the donation points in Henley and how he had worked with Anastasia who has been living in the UK since last April.  He has been co-ordinating with charities and drivers to ensure that the Henley donations are received where they are needed.  He will be working with Nomad on providing welcome packs for refugees.  He said afterwards, “We still need donations, this war isn’t going away and I’d like to thank my wife Nicky who has been supporting me with helping with all the donations.”

Anastasia said, “David has been my angel from the first week.  Some things in life you can never be specially trained for.  Very soon you learn what you are capable of.  You start to make impossible things possible, and this happens by us being united and by meeting people and spreading the word and finding those ways. We are peaceful country, we are pacifists, we are not aggressive at all, we are not fighting, we are defending.  We are participating in something we didn’t want to participate in.”

South Oxfordshire District Councillor and Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Maggie Filipova-Rivers spoke about how her council was working Oxfordshire County Council  and teams were being set up and systems in place for processing refugees.  She said, “There are about 100 household matches in South Oxfordshire currently. “Things are moving very fast and it is quite chaotic at the moment but the Council is here to support both hosts and refugees.”

Local resident, Gemma Birch who has set up mothersisterdaughter.org website spoke about creating a hub for information for both refugees and hosts.   She said she set up the website because she could foresee issues of people doing this in silo and  said, “I really think the only way it is going to work for hosts and refugees is to have a community and a network and so no-one is isolated.  Talking about the commitment of being a host for at least 6 months. Gemma added, “I realised, I don’t think I have  the space emotionally in my life at the moment and I don’t think it would be fair to bring a family who are fleeing war and who have trauma into a space I can’t give them  enough time.”

Sarah Lane from Nomad spoke about helping families arriving not only with food but setting up bank accounts and filling in forms for universal credit.  Patrick who worked for the Foreign Office asked hosts to help and support the refugees to fill out reports of war crimes on the Metropolitan police website.

There were chances for audience to ask questions of the speakers who signposted them to right contacts or websites.

Gemma said afterwards, “I think Wednesday’s event was a huge success. A fabulous turnout and people genuinely asking the right questions in terms of how they can help and what needs to be done to be most effective in this ever evolving process. We continue to see people signing up as hosts, guests, wanting to make financial donations and volunteer their time so it’s wonderful.”

“The networking of existing charities, organisations, councils, businesses, community groups and individuals is already happening happening and Wednesday’s event was a wonderful confirmation of that; a room brimming with kindness and an ever growing outpouring of support ‘in any way’. I am very confident that Henley and our broader neighbourhood areas are going to continue to work as hard as we can to help and support our Ukrainian guests as they arrive.”

Kris ended the evening by saying thank you for coming.  “We have a room full of kindness.”