Coming together in crisis: Cardiff’s response to the Ukrainian crisis

People of Cardiff and support groups helping Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees settle down in Wales as the War approaches one year

Helen, Anna and Olena have become friends over their love of helping people.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, 8.1 million Ukrainians have fled Ukraine seeking refuge in different parts of Europe to ensure the safety of their family and loved ones.

Wales has seen an influx of Ukrainian refugees who aim to start their new lives here, but the ongoing war has created a demand for aid like never before. But the people of Cardiff are taking the initiative to help Ukrainians settle in Wales.

A fundraising event at the city centre.

Kris Lewis, an art teacher from Cardiff, has started a program that teaches communicative English to Ukrainian refugees using pictorial magazines. The program combines language education with art. This provides participants with a fun and interactive way to improve their language skills and helps them better understand their new home’s culture. 

“The informal style of the sessions, encourages a lot of communication with the participants. This will help them make friends and help build a sense of community here,”

The pictorial magazines are designed to be accessible and engaging, making it easier for participants to understand and retain new information.

“When they manage to spell a word right, the way their face lights up is the best thing to see,”

Elena Znatkova, a Ukrainian refugee, runs a music program for Ukrainian refugees called ‘Song circle’ that focuses on creative activity. 

Through this program, Znatkova helps refugees overcome communication barriers and adapt to their new living conditions in external displacement. 

Elena arrived in Wales in August.

“For 8 years I worked with young and adult immigrants – teachers and students, and noticed that creativity, music, singing helped to overcome fear, pain, loss and separation,” said blah. “In my program, I  try to create such conditions under which the young and adults could show and develop their talents, perform on stage, improve their psychological state and believe in themselves.”

The music program also promotes Ukrainian social cohesion and brings a sense of community to the refugees.

“In one of our performances, children wore Ukrainian costumes and sang in the rain, with their eyes filled with hope, faith and pride, this struck me and this is what keeps me motivated,”

Children indulged in learning music and singing Ukrainian songs.

What started as a small group has now become a fully functioning music unit. Elena and her students regularly perform in fundraiser events and protests supported by thousands of people.

The ‘Song circle’ is now receiving requests to perform across Wales, and Elena plans to organise events in community centres and churches to spread the beauty of Ukrainian culture.

These programs provide practical support, help refugees integrate into their new homes, and offer a much-needed sense of community in times of uncertainty and upheaval.

Warm coats for kids in need are always in stock in the hub.

Cardiff for Ukraine is another organisation which started in March last year as a small effort to help Ukraine. Now, the organisation sends medical aid and mechanical parts like radiators and incubators to Ukraine. 

The hub in Cardiff city also has clothes, medicines, furniture and all the basic things needed for a family to settle down in Wales and begin their new lives. 

Helen, the lead volunteer at Cardiff for Ukraine, says, “It started off when the war started in Ukraine. A collection happened outside of vets, outside of my local community. And because I had visited Ukraine, I certainly felt an affinity for the crisis. So I went along and started packing a few boxes, and it grew from there.”

Helen buffers through the stock of men’s wear available in the hub

The Cardiff for Ukraine hub now organises fundraising events, regular social meetings for Ukranian refugees and donation drives to help hundreds of Ukrainian families settle down. 

“I have two new pants,” says Anna, a refugee and volunteer at the Cardiff for Ukraine hub. Anna volunteers at the hub and helps other Ukrainians settle in Cardiff. 

Talking about how the Welsh community has helped them: “Welsh people do whatever they can, and we are very grateful because we understand how much they do. It’s, it’s a lot. It’s really a lot.” says Anna.

Kids’ room filled with toys and essentials

Since the start of the war, the organisation has sent a direct donation of £14000. An incubator is also being sent to the last standing hospital in Kherson.

“There was an elderly gentleman that came along, and we were able to give him a bike. The older people will get forgotten that everybody’s gotta focus on giving stuff for babies and children. We gave him a bike, and I saw something in his eyes, you know, that he couldn’t believe that this fantastic bike was being given to him,” says Helen as she recalls her best moment working in the hub. 

People interested in donating or volunteering at the Cardiff for Ukraine hub can reach out through this link