Ukraine: One Year On
This Friday, February 24th marks the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, how have those that came here coped, settled and lived with the enormous upheaval, uncertainty and fear for loved ones back home over those past 12 months?
Daria Varchenko is just one of those to have sought safety here in the West Midlands, having left Ukraine in April 2022. She left behind her family, her husband and her life. “Maybe a month or two and then I’ll be back home.” she thought. A year later she has found a community that understands her in the UK. A community that shouldn’t need to be here, but that has come together to overcome the difficulties.
Leaving everything behind
Daria, 29, lived in the Donetsk region of Ukraine until the war began. “It was getting more and more dangerous, and with the news about Mariupol coming through, we [Daria and her family] moved the Western Ukraine.” From here Daria decided to travel to the UK to live with relatives.
She arrived with nothing and had only once before met the people she was about to call her ‘British family’. At this time, she thought she would be back home in no time.
“I was depressed when I came here. My cousin told me to go make friends, but I didn’t want to make friends, I have friends, I have a life, all in Ukraine. When I look back, I had the perfect life. My job was good, and I always had fun with friends and relatives and suddenly someone just stole our life away.”
Although the initial phase was difficult. Daria was lucky to have family around her. “They are distant relatives, but they are amazing people who have helped me with everything. I came here with nothing, and my English was non-existent but they help explain things to me and show me English life.”
Daria’s husband is still in Ukraine and currently in Kiev, unable to leave the country. They speak every day, often with hours of video calls. On New Year’s eve their conversation was cut short though as missiles started landing nearby. She shouted for him to get to a bunker and thankfully he made it to safety.
Finding your community
Over time, her cousin introduced Daria to Razom, a community centre in Wolverhampton where Daria was able to find people like her. The centre provides a wide range of support to the Ukraine community in the area. With English classes, a ‘shop’ where people can get household items and clothing, a cafe and craft activities, it’s a space for people to come together and get support as well as a place for them to feel at home. Alongside this, they work with local organisations such as the Refugee and Migrant Centre and Wolves at work who give advice from the centre for those that need it.
“I had never done things like this in Ukraine. It helped relax me and we found a way to create things and then sell them. It was a way I could then help the Ukrainian army. I feel I need to do it. I made it, and we sold them at different fairs”
Daria keeps in regular contact with her family still. Just a few weeks ago there were missile attacks where her father and granny were living. Another relative’s home was destroyed, and their dog was killed. Fortunately, the relatives survived but it reminded Daria of the dangers people are still facing.
“Sometimes in the cafe I start to cry and she [Daria’s cousin] tells me it will be OK. When I speak with my dad, and I say bye there’s a moment when I think it might be the last goodbye.”
The community around her has given Daria a chance to not just survive in the UK but given her a chance to feel part of something. To be around people who understand her. “It is very important having a community like this. If I didn’t have this community I don’t know how I would start … for me it’s like a little part of Ukraine here.”
Although it will always be a struggle, the support given to those arriving from Ukraine has made a huge difference. From hosts and families taking people into community organisations and centres or just being there when people needed them. These networks have allowed people to continue a life that was put on pause when the war began. This support will not make up for what is going on but shows people they are not alone. And at times like these that can make the world of difference.
The Rezom Centre is hosting a craft fair at St. Michaels in Wolverhampton on the 29th April. Crafts created by members of the community group will be on sale with the proceeds going back to support Ukrainians.