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West Wales Ukrainian families celebrate national day at Swansea Grand Theatre

UKRAINIANS celebrated their country’s independence day at a fund-raising event in Swansea but behind many smiles was a story of upheaval and friends and family left behind in a warzone.

Those at the city’s Grand Theatre, where blue and yellow was the order of the day, included Olha Boiko, her husband Oleksandr, and her mother Valentyna Nahorna.

Olha – who was then pregnant with her third child – fled her home in Boryspil, near Kyiv, with her two daughters after the Russians invaded in February. Her youngest child is four months old on August 25 and they live with a host family near Llandovery, Carmarthenshire.

“We came in the night – in the morning we opened the curtains and saw a lot of sheep,” she said. “We are still there – the family are very, very nice and very kind but we are looking for accommodation.”

Olha said they would like to stay in the area because her 11 and eight-year-olds had settled well at local schools and made friends.

Men in Ukraine were not allowed to leave the country after the war began but exemptions included being a father-of-three so Oleksandr arrived in Wales a couple of months after the rest of his family. He now works as a service engineer in Carmarthenshire. Olha was a pastry chef in Ukraine, her mother a maths teacher.

Olha said the family had received a warm welcome in Wales and that it was very important to her to mark independence day on August 24.

“It is for every Ukrainian,” she said. “I have friends there. It is a difficult situation with rockets firing. There is no safe place. It is like a lottery. We have to win. We have no choice.”

Ana Stasija left Ukraine in 2014 and moved to Prague in the Czech Republic before joining family in Llanelli four years ago. She speaks three languages and studied for her A-levels before getting a full-time job at Nando’s.

But now she is working as a teaching assistant in Carmarthenshire to help Ukrainian children settle and integrate.

“I do like it but it’s not something I thought I would go into,” she said.

Ana said Ukraine had no option but to win and that it was important to bring people together on August 24 and promote Ukrainian culture.

Her aunt Oksana Shapovalova, of Sketty, Swansea, and her husband Dmitri Finkelshtein helped organise the fund-raising event with other members of a Ukrainian volunteer group, Sunflowers Wales.

Proceeds will go to support children of families who have fled the conflict. Dmitiri, who is chairman of the group, said funds more usually were spent on shipments of medical aid and other humanitarian supplies.

The stalls and food tasting was followed by a ticketed event featuring singing, dancing, and poems.

“The event is also to say thank you to people in Wales and to show the UK we are not a separate community,” said Dmitri.

Ukrainians, he said, were trying to integrate into their new communities. “For example some of the concert parts will be in Welsh,” he said.

Dmitri, an associate maths professor at Swansea University, said he didn’t expect the war in Ukraine to end soon. “But we believe in victory,” he said. “Ukraine will not give up.”

Also present at the Grand Theatre Arts Wing was Lord Mayor of Swansea, Cllr Mike Day, and Llanelli MP Nia Griffith.

Cllr Day, who hosted a tea party at the Mansion House this week for Ukrainians uprooted by war, said the event was further evidence of Swansea’s city of sanctuary status.

“It’s fantastic that we are able to do that,” he said. Cllr Day added it was vital that families were offered practical as well as symbolic support.

Ms Griffith said it was not possible for Ukrainians to celebrate openly in their own country on August 24.

“It’s really important that we should mark independence day in these very sad circumstances,” she said. “It’s very important that we show solidarity. I always wish we could do more.”

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