Shropshire Star

Meet the Ukrainians finding refuge in town with a warm welcome

For Ukrainians uprooted from their homeland and thrust into an unfamiliar country, one support group has given them a home from home.

The hub has provided support for a number of Ukrainians who fled the Russian invasion for safety in Shropshire.

This weekend marks two years since Russia attacked Ukraine, leaving hundreds of thousands of people making the impossible choice to flee their home in search of safety.

As they landed across the world, seeking refuge and help, local organisations and residents have sprung up, countering the experience of the worst of humanity, with that of the best.

In Shrewsbury, Shropshire Supports Refugees (SSR) continued the support it has provided for others desperate for help, rallying round to throw a blanket of support over the county's newest residents as they adjusted to an unusual, and unexpected new home.

Olha Voropai of Shropshire Supports Refugees with Nika Ostratuyk and her mum, Natalia Soroka

The organisation's hub, now based in Mardol, Shrewsbury, has been a meeting place providing support, activities, vital help with housing, employment, education, and a friendly place as the Ukrainians sought to come to terms with their new lives.

The organisation has been such a success that some Ukrainians who first arrived seeking help have now become members of staff themselves.

The Shropshire Star has heard from some of those who have benefitted from the help, and Amanda Jones, the charity's chief executive.

The hub has provided support for a number of Ukrainians who fled the Russian invasion for safety in Shropshire.

They have told of the agonising decision to leave everything behind to keep their families safe.

While some were still understandably reticent to put their names to their words, one of them, Maryna Sakhno, spoke of how the hub had provided "one big family" for those escaping the destruction of their homeland.

Maryna explained that she had been reluctant to leave Ukraine – but in the face of Russian bombing realised there was no other option.

Mila Prysyazhna, Olha Voropai, Tania Bilousova and Stanislave Kudym, at the Shropshire Supports Refugees hub in Shrewsbury, on the two year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.

She said: "After the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine, I was forced to leave my home with my family. I did not plan to leave my country, but after constant bombings, I realised that there was no other way out.

"In December 2022, we arrived in Shrewsbury. We got into a friendly family of sponsors. The day after we arrived, we came to the hub for the first time. The staff welcomed us hospitably, listened to us carefully, answered all our questions, enrolled us in ESOL (English for Speakers of other Languages) courses and provided us with all the necessary information.

"The staff members are very qualified, friendly, attentive, and speak several languages, so there were no problems at all in communication and information could be obtained in any language.

"After a difficult journey, especially in the last months in Ukraine, we needed emotional support and we received it at the hub.

"The staff members of the hub organised thematic events and interesting activities for both adults and children, which made it possible for us to make new acquaintances and friends from different parts of the world. We have another big family now! Thank you, dear staff members of the Hub, for everything you have done and continue to do!"

Other have spoken of the "endless" help provided by staff – be it with clothing, finding work, a GP, or particularly learning English.

One said: "We had a great life in Ukraine and the decision to leave our home and our family wasn't easy at all.

"After a few missiles hit our city, we decided that it was time to save our child and leave everything behind."

Speaking about the impact of the hub they said: "They have helped us in so many different ways: from SIM cards to bus passes, from leisure vouchers to English courses. The list is very long. The help is always massive and we're so grateful for everyday support.

They added: "We don't know what it would look like if there wasn't a community hub in Shropshire because it's not just a space for community but also a support that makes our lives a lot easier here!"

Amanda said the charity's aim had been to provide the welcome they would want to receive if UK residents were ever faced with the same impossible choices.