This week the war in Ukraine has been raging for over a year; its impact has been devastating, first and foremost with lives lost and whole communities even cities obliterated. Russian “tactics” and “strategy” has been deliberately brutal, the deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructures, the indiscriminate destruction of neighbourhoods and villages and towns, no concern for civilians, the forced expulsion of people including the removal of tens of thousands of children far into Russia to be indoctrinated against their culture and even families. The brutality has also been against their own forces with no concern for the well-being of their own soldiers.
It is how Russia imposed its presence on Northern Syria, and how Russia forced Chechnya into submission. Brutal, inhuman even diabolical. Brutality is a deep dark vein within the human psyche – when encouraged and pandered to, we see the effects on others, not just in Ukraine, but in Ethiopia and Congo and Yemen and Afghanistan and at individual level in domestic abuse, rape and gang warfare.
A year ago also, communities started to come together to offer homes and hospitality to Ukrainian families and within our area there have been several families, mostly women and children, who have found some refuge. Each family is different – each one has continued links back to Ukraine, to a husband, to cousins, to their workplace, their home, their village community etc. With the fear of further onslaughts families are still seeking refuge, and of course Poland, Germany and other European countries have taken far more people than has the UK. What is our experience, supporting several families? The local Council Officers have been fantastic; appeals for help, furniture etc have been generously answered; some have quietly donated money so we have been able to give Christmas presents or meet unexpected costs; some have incredibly generously offered houses – which has made such a difference; the Home Office, sad to say, has not been helpful; (some families who applied gave up in despair as visas just did not get processed); local schools have been brilliant not just in making a space but helping children whose first language is not English – if your children are in a class with a Ukrainian child do encourage them to befriend and even invite the whole family; it is very hard for foreign families to integrate.
Our economy and our communities are being enriched by the skills and the labour offered by the adults in the families. There is an enrichment to our community as we welcome these families, but we must not forget that this was not their first choice – they have been forced from their homes, their communities; depending on which part of the country they come from, some have experienced shelling and bombing; children no longer play with their class-mates; the future is uncertain – when will it be safe and sensible to return and what will they find?
Nationally and internationally there is also the continued flow of weaponry and rockets and ammunition to Ukraine; we do not know the overall death-toll of Ukrainian service men and women killed or injured in combat. As we are enriched by those who have come here, so the scarring between Ukraine and Russia gets ever deeper. Russia has generated a hatred of Ukraine and has dehumanised the people to justify its invasion and destruction. This can only lead to further generations of hatred and fear from Ukrainians towards their much larger neighbour. In 1994 when Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons on its territory, Russia guaranteed the peace and protection of Ukraine. Clearly all trust is well and truly broken.
We remember each refugee in this country is a person; each has a family and friends, broken dreams, and unshaped hopes; a home left behind and a future still uncertain, or at least in a new country. Let us be truly thankful that we live in a safe and stable place; let us continue to support the victims of war and violence; let us pledge to do something this week for good.