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Heartwarming generosity for Ukrainian refugees

Two years on, a community effort to support Ukrainian refugees continues to have an impact on those who have fled the devastation.

The Church of St Michael and All Angels in Summertown became a hub for those wanting to do what they could to help, led by the Revd Gavin Knight and supported by Emma Wilkinson and Michael Taylor who lead the Ukrainian Friendship Centre. Neighbours volunteered to work with children, bake cakes, make soup, teach English, run a play group for the toddlers and children, work in the kitchen to feed the hungry and overwhelmed refugees and to help with the complex requirements of beginning life in the UK at the 'help desk'.

Gavin explains: "We had a group that ran on a fortnightly basis for the local host families and yoga, creative groups, CV writing and an intermediate English discussion group. This all developed organically and the volunteers kept going week after week with their numbers swelling, never dwindling until more recently when fewer refugees are coming to the UK.

"The local council have sent representatives who have come on a weekly basis for the last year to help those who are struggling with further accommodation and it is so helpful having a person to communicate with on a face-to-face basis and a translator who is now employed by Oxford City Council. Clothing and toys, household goods and regular extra bread and food are all so appreciated. I remember one guest falling upon the food and devouring it at such a pace that they could hardly tell their story, but over time that has changed and there is more sense of calm and less frenzy now."

Friendships have been forged, some have moved into paid work and cannot therefore attend the group while others return to meet each other on a regular basis to participate in learning English and to benefit from the feeling of calm and containment that the Wednesdays offer.

Behind the scenes are the volunteers, some Ukrainian, who set up the church in preparation for the meetings, moving furniture and those who clear up at the end of the day. There are those who meet and greet, look out for who needs a new laptop or phone that has been donated, floating helpers and volunteers from St Edwards School, some of whom speak fluent Russian which has been a great help. The helpdesk volunteers work tirelessly dealing with problems ranging from sorting out someone’s pension, to a bus pass issue, or a problem with universal credit or housing. They listen to painful stories from the Ukrainians who have escaped their country leaving family and friends and a life behind them.

Some of the church's guests have now moved into their own homes and are either working or are in school or further education. There has been a huge amount of furniture that has been made available by the community to those who have been lucky enough to either rent or benefit from council housing in Oxfordshire.

Gavin added: "It is so exciting to witness the momentous times when English exams are passed with success, when children settle in school and begin to speak English with a fluency that the parents never believed could happen and when a member of the family is successfully brought over from Ukraine to the UK.

"Sadly two years on the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues as a relentless war destroying the lives of the Ukrainian people. The generosity, thoughtfulness and kindness of local groups such as ours is so heartwarming but it contrasts so greatly with the horrors we see in Ukraine, the Middle East and Sudan to name just those in the headlines. We may be just a drop in the ocean and a local community but each of us brings their own special gift to this group."

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Page last updated: Thursday 23rd May 2024 12:48 AM
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