Stories

Історії

In this section you will find some stories about Cambridge4Ukraine members, Ukrainians in Cambridgeshire and friendly initiatives. For media enquiries, please email media@cambridge4ukraine.uk

Photo of Anatolii PavlovskyiPhoto of Alina's grandparentsCarousel image

Anatolii Pavlovskyi: 'I phone my parents every single day'

“I phone my parents every single day. We have a chat, we try to be as normal as we can, and I tell them I love them,” says Anatolii Pavlovskyi.

“When I say goodbye, I wonder whether that was my last conversation with them. They live not far from Kyiv and the Russians are not far away. I don’t have any brothers or sisters. It’s just me and I’m not there with them.”

Anatolii, 36, is an IT engineer working for an international enterprise. His specialism is cloud technology and automation. He has lived in Cambridge ever since 2013 with a gap of year and a half when he had to return to Kiev due to visa regulations which permit stays of just 5 years in the UK.

What is unfolding in Ukraine today is devastating for Anatolii and other Ukrainians far from home. “I actually can’t let myself think about it too much because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to function. I tell myself I’ll deal with my emotions some time in the future,” he says.

The day after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, Anatolii and fellow members of the Cambridge University Ukrainian Society immediately put a campaign together. Cambridge4Ukraine is active on many fronts – from protesting to event organising, and complies useful information on their website.

“We’re pouring our energy into resisting the war, raising awareness of what is happening and what is at stake, not just for Ukraine but for the rest of Europe, and preparing to welcome refugees,” says Anatolii.

Like many Ukrainians from his generation, Anatolii speaks almost faultless English. In Ukraine children begin English lessons at the age of seven or so. “I enjoyed English lessons right from the start,” he says. “I loved the story of Robin Hood and I was a huge Doctor Who fan.”

As a teenager Anatolii became fascinated by computers. “At school it became obvious in class that I knew much more than the teacher,” he says. “Luckily the teacher was happy to set aside and let me take the class.”

He studied computer science at National Technical University of Ukraine “Kiev Polytechnic Institute” and quickly found an excellent job first with an international company in Kyiv and more recently for a company based in London.

“I’m a strong believer in cooperation and working in teams. The company I’m currently working for has a very open culture. We support each other,” he says. “The team I’m part of has people from all over the world. We learn so much from each other.”

Anatolii is keen to champion Ukraine’s rich and diverse culture. Among his many enthusiasms are music (especially Odyn V Kanoe, ONUKA, Okean Elzy) and wine. “Ukraine produces a huge variety of wines. I’d like to introduce the British market to them,” he says.

To see millions of your own own people flee their homes and become refugees is unbelievably hard.

“Ukrainians have a huge amount to offer,” says Anatolii. “We just need to be given the right opportunities and we will make a great contribution to life in the UK. The visa system needs to be made much simpler.”

There are no words to adequately describe the war that’s happening in Anatolii’s home country. However, Ukrainians knew it was coming. “For people outside Ukraine, the Russian invasion came as a sudden shock. But Ukraine had already been at war for eight years,” he says.

“The world didn’t pay much attention to what was happening all that time. And there’s a danger now that people’s attention will start to shift. We must keep the focus on what is undoubtedly the greatest war in Europe since WWII.”

[Words: Alexandra Buxton]

Alina Radzhput: One short film: my Ukrainian grandfather, his pigeons and the Russian occupation

War reaches deep into ordinary lives. When, over the Christmas break, Cambridge art student Alina Radzhput made a short film about her beloved grandfather and his lifelong hobby, she had no inkling of just how very poignant it would soon become.

Alina is Ukrainian and her 3.5-minute film is showing all week at an exhibition of MA work by students at Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts (CSVPA). It features Alina’s grandfather in his yard talking about his passion for raising pigeons. He knows each one and they know him.

Twenty-two-year-old Alina comes from Kharkiv. Her grandparents live in the Luhansk region to the east, not far from the border with Russia. “When I returned home for Christmas, we went to visit my grandparents in their village,” she says.

“As an extra project, I began to make a video of my grandfather and his pigeons. He’s reared pigeons for more than 63 years, starting with just three birds. He now has 55. He loves everything about them – their markings, their sounds, their flight.”

Russia’s war on Ukraine has turned Alina’s family, along with countless others, upside down. Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24 and by the beginning of March Alina’s grandparents’ village was in Russian control.

“Life in my grandparents’ village has utterly changed,” she says. Because the internet has been blocked, communication with them is extremely limited.

“My grandparents are living in fear and darkness. No matter how much they want to leave, they could never do so because it is their home, their motherland, their Ukraine,” Alina writes in text accompanying her film.

“As scary as it is, my grandfather keeps launching his pigeons upwards into the sky every day, finding that little bit of peace and freedom as they leave, and that little bit of comfort and reassurance as they return.”

In early March Alina’s parents fled from Kharkiv to seek safety with friends in Sweden. “I went to visit them a couple of weeks ago. It was good to see that they were safe and well but my mum desperately misses her home in Kharkiv,” she says.

“There are no words to describe what has happened to my family and so many others. The word surreal is the best I can do.”

Alina’s film is called Skycutter, the name of the breed of pigeon her grandfather rears. Looking at her footage from the perspective of a country under attack, she sees her video as full of symbolism. It captures themes of love, flight, peace and freedom.

“Refugees may fly from their homes and travel huge distances but like pigeons they will always come back,” she says.

Skycutter was shown at Resonance and Wonder, an exhibition of MA students’ work at Friar House in Cambridge, within the framework of Cambridge Fest.

[Words: Alexandra Buxton]

Marharyta from Ukraine loves unicorns – and she’s coming to Cambridge

The first Ukrainians matched with local hosts by the Cambridge4Ukraine initiative will be arriving in the city this weekend.

Marharyta is five-and-a-half years old and she loves unicorns.

These are the few facts that Alex and his partner Kat know about their young guest who, along with her mum, will arrive this weekend to live with the local couple for at least six months.

Alex, 25, and Kat, 24, live in Cambridge where both work as programmers. Marharyta and her mum, Natalia, who is in her mid-30s, are Ukrainian. Their home is in Western Ukraine, not far from a military base, and they are now fleeing the war that’s disrupting millions of lives.

“There are air-strikes nearby and we are getting no rest. We’ve decided to leave,” says Natalia. “We love the English language. Marharyta has been learning English since she was two. She needs to go to school, and I want to work.”

Alex says that he and Kat started to discuss the idea of hosting Ukrainian refugees even before the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme was launched, and they registered as sponsors immediately it went live.

“We helped organise a family activities event that raised £1,600 for Ukraine but that didn’t seem enough,” says Alex. “Every day on television we were seeing reports of people fleeing the conflict with nowhere to go.”

The Homes for Ukraine scheme does not match hosts with refugees, which can prove problematic, especially if neither side has existing connections. This is where Cambridge4Ukraine can help.

Alex and Kat were the first hosts to be matched with Ukrainian guests by the scheme, a campaign established a couple of days after the Russian invasion.

Vitally, Cambridge4Ukraine offers guidance from fluent Ukrainian speakers on completing the lengthy process of applying for the all-important UK visa for Ukrainian refugees.

“Completing the visa application involved a three-way online conversation between us, Natalia and Andrii Smytsniuk from Cambridge4Ukraine” says Alex. “It took several sessions. Andrii was so helpful and soon Natalia seemed like a friend.”

Alex and Kat’s Cambridge three-bedroomed house will be checked by the local authority for safety and suitability, and they have submitted their details for advanced DBS (criminal) checks.

Natalia says Marharyta understands that she and her mum need to escape from the war and that although she will be sad to leave her friends, she will soon make new ones.

“It will be a new experience having a mother and child to stay,” says Alex. “But we live in a really friendly street with neighbours willing to help with information on schools and so on.”

Kat comes from Lithuania which means that Ukraine doesn’t seem as far away for her and Alex as it might for others. “There are cultural similarities between the two countries,” says Alex.

“When we’ve been talking to Natalia online we’ve heard sirens wailing and she’s had to cut our calls short and take her daughter to a shelter. It will be good to have them here in the safety of our house.”

Natalia insists that she does not feel anxious about the challenges ahead but she’s nervous about the long journey to get to the UK.

“It’s going to be three days travelling by bus, train and plane. But Britain is the greatest country in the world. I already like my hosts Alex and Kat.”

Since teaming Alex and Kat up with Natalia and her daughter, Cambridge4Ukraine has forged more than 60 further matches. As generous as local people have been, the initiative stresses that the demand for homes in Cambridge still far outnumbers the offers of places.

“Ukrainians fleeing the war and wanting to come to the UK need to name a sponsor in their visa application. But most Ukrainians don’t know anyone in the UK. We take details from Ukrainian refugees and potential hosts and introduce them to each other,” says Andrii Smytsniuk.

“We keen to encourage more potential hosts with at least one room to offer to register on our website.”

Potential hosts can find more information and register here.

(The hosts and guests interviewed in this article asked us to use first names only.)

14 April, 2022. Words by Alex Buxton

Cambridge children’s messages touch Ukrainian soldiers’ hearts

Drawings by Cambridge children have touched the hearts of a group of Ukrainian soldiers fighting for their country thousands of miles away. The children’s images, which were shared on Instagram, were accompanied by messages of love and support.

When a soldier in an unknown battalion somewhere in Ukraine spotted the images, he replied anonymously with some heart-felt words.

Translated from Ukrainian, his message reads: “We were tearful looking at the drawings made by children in England in support of our soldiers. [The images are] colourful, diverse, full of positive emotions and warmth.”

The children’s artwork appeared online after one of the thrice-weekly protests against the war held in central Cambridge. The gatherings are organised by the Cambridge4Ukraine initiative and often include news updates.

“Everyone’s deeply affected by this war including children and many families attend our protests,” said Olenka Dmytryk, Cambridge4Ukraine member. “We wanted children to have the chance to express their feelings and support for Ukraine”.

Two weeks ago children attending the protest were given a selection of art materials by the organisers and encouraged to create their own images. “It was very moving to see colourful drawings and positive messages from both children and adults,” said Olenka.

Driving an ambulance from Cambridge to Ukraine along the route of hope

Until last month he’d never driven anything bigger than a family car. Now Cambridge resident Vitalii Burnus is preparing to drive a fourth ambulance to Ukraine to donate to hospitals treating the war wounded.

When his phone pinged on a dull day back in early March, Vitalii Burnus found himself looking at a message from a friend. “I saw that a group in Denmark were taking ambulances to Ukraine. That’s the moment when something took hold in my head,” he recalls.

Vitalii, 37, and his wife Nataliia, 36, are Ukrainians. They have lived in Cambridge since 2013 with a short break in their homeland to comply with UK visa regulations. Both are highly qualified clinical scientists. They have four children, the youngest just a year old.

The Russian invasion of their homeland hit them hard. “It was totally unreal, a horrible and completely new feeling. We were safely here in Cambridge but our hearts were in Ukraine,” says Nataliia.

“The night before the war started on 24 February, I had a terrible nightmare. In my dream I was at my grandmother’s house in the countryside near Kharkiv and I was walking round pools of blood.”

Nataliia woke that morning to find Vitalii reading the news. “His face was white with shock. From that moment, everything changed and we knew we had to help. I felt that my grandparents were calling me, that our country needed us.”

The couple’s response was immediate. That evening they and their family attended a demonstration organised by Cambridge University Ukrainian Society. “We cried together and stood together, trying to work out ways of supporting Ukraine,” says Nataliia.

Less than two weeks after spotting his friend’s message alerting him to the Danish mission, Vitalii was driving an ambulance over the Severn Bridge en route for Ukraine, some 1,500 miles away. In the space of a few days, Vitalii and Nataliia, backed by a growing circle of friends and supporters, had raised £8,000 and purchased a second-hand vehicle from a company in South Wales. “I’d never been to South Wales before, and I most definitely didn’t know how to pronounce Merthyr Tydfil. Plus, I’d never driven anything bigger than a family car,” says Vitalii. “After watching the news as my country was shelled, people killed and cities destroyed, it felt good to be doing something positive and practical. Nataliia and I decided to call our trip the Route of Hope.”

As well as purchasing an ambulance to donate to a military hospital in Kyiv, the couple and their supporters raised more than £14,000 to buy medical supplies, protective items and medical equipment. Vitalii picked these items up at stopping points in London, Berlin and Warsaw. While Vitalii navigated the motorways across Eastern Europe, back in Cambridge Nataliia and Sergii Burnus, Vitalii’s brother, looked after the complex logistics and documentation entailed in crossing several borders in a vehicle piled high with supplies.

Three days after leaving South Wales, Vitalii arrived in Korzowa-Krakovets on the Poland-Ukraine border and handed everything over to a Ukrainian military doctor. A friend with a car who had accompanied him from Warsaw drove him back to the Polish capital so he could fly home.

Just before Easter, Vitalii and his friend Anatolii Pavlovskiy did the same trip all over again, each driving an ambulance crammed with supplies. Once again, the vehicles and their contents were handed over to Ukrainian military hospitals whose need for first aid supplies and transport for wounded servicemen is acute.

“An anonymous donor paid for these two ambulances,” says Nataliia. “We don’t know who this person is. But we are incredibly grateful. I wanted to make a cake as a thank-you present but I got a message that any celebration would have to wait till the war was over.”

Vitalii’s line manager at the international pharmaceutical company where he works describes him as a man of action. True to form, he is already planning his third trip. This time he will deliver a left-handdrive ambulance specially equipped to transport badly injured people.

“I’ll carry on taking ambulances to Ukraine as long as there is need for them and as long as our budget allows,” he says. Tucked into his passport will be the card made for him by a 14-year-old Cambridge girl called Georgina, one of countless well-wishers.

Vitalii stresses that couldn’t do any of these trips without Nataliia and the staunch support of family and friends. Close Ukrainian friends include Anatolii who has also lived and worked in Cambridge for several years. “The moment I heard about Vitalii’s project I was determined to support him. I raised £3,000 to help fund the first ambulance trip with a Ukrainian wine tasting event,” says Anatolii. “I’d never driven a right-hand vehicle in Europe before, let alone all the way to Ukraine. But I’d definitely do it all again.”

For Nataliia, the sense of support she and her family feel from those around them is a huge source of hope and strength. “Putin’s war on Ukraine is terrible,” she says. “But amid the terror and destruction there are so many sparks of human kindness and generosity.”