Ahead of Eurovision – how Liverpool has opened its arms with support for people of Ukraine
12 months ago
An award-winning city charity has set up a support group for people who have fled the war in the Ukraine.
The Liverpool Ukrainian Support Group meets every Friday afternoon at the Big Help Project’s base in Kensington, offering practical support as well as friendship for people who have come to the UK from Ukraine seeking refuge after the Russian invasion.
Leading the group as Ukrainian engagement officer is Kyiv-born Anna Ekvist, who came to Liverpool more than six years ago after getting married to husband, Dominick.
And Anna says:
“It’s a nice place for people to come to and find someone who’s in the same situation as themselves, far from home.
“We can give them useful information, from benefits advice to help with housing, as well as food and clothing.
“And we can also offer a friendly face, a smile, to welcome them when they come in.”
The Liverpool Ukrainian Support Group meets every Friday afternoon from 12.30pm to 3pm at the Boaler Street charity centre which, for more than 10 years, has provided wrap-around services to make sure ‘no-one is left in crisis’.
It aims, it says, to feed the hungry, overcome poverty, free people from debt and help with housing and create a better future.
That includes running food clubs and community shops, giving employment and debt support and advice, helping people find affordable places to live, and offering health and wellbeing services.
And it’s thanks to its experience and knowledge gained over the last decade and beyond that it can now help Ukrainians who have found a new home in Liverpool.
Anna is the support group lead who, as well as being able to speak to people in their native language, can offer the help and the hope that people need.
The 35-year-old knows how hard it is for those who have been forced to leave. Her mother, sister and her sister’s children have come to live in Liverpool, while her father remains in Ukraine doing what he can for his country.
“It’s hard for everyone,” she says. “You have the cultural difference and the language barrier. It’s still hard for me, so I feel like I’m everyone else.
“Everything is new and they try to settle here and build a new life because of what is happening. So I try to help, with clothes and cheap food, and practical things like explaining how the NHS works and how to register, and making sure they create a bank account, and things like that.
“I ask them what help we can provide. They may have come without clothes so we have pre-loved clothes – many still with labels – we can give them, if they are struggling with food we can provide a food parcel.
“We can help them find a job, or learn English.
“Or, if they just want to talk, we can talk. It’s up to the person. Many make friends here, parents can meet other parents.”
The Friday afternoon group is a drop-in meeting with no need to book.
Practical help comes in the form of the support and advice that the Big Help Project is already offering to many in the city, but also more tailored assistance for the Ukrainians who must forge as normal a life as they can while they are here.
People who attend the group are given a free lunch or they can have coffee and, as well as speaking to Anna, can meet up with fellow refugees with whom they share so much in common.
Sometimes there are around 15-20 people, but there can be more than 50, says Anna.
As well as the practical and emotional help, the Liverpool Ukrainian Support Group arranges different events – it now has a children’s choir and Ukrainian dance classes, an arts and drama club, and it is currently planning a range of Ukrainian Easter events.
It gives out free tickets it gets to concerts and other things going on, to offer a life more like the one people have left behind and to encourage contact.
It lets people know about things going on they might find useful – like the Ukrainian Rite Mass held every Saturday at 5.30pm at St Sebastian’s RC Church, and led by Father Taras.
“No-one was prepared for such a huge war, and it is a horrible situation which many people find themselves in.
“My personal goal, when so much is happening, is to make it all more bearable. To make everyone’s life a little bit easier, and a little bit better, and happier.”
To find out more about the Liverpool Ukrainian Support Group, just go along to the Friday sessions, or email Anna at Anna.Ekvist@bighelpproject.com
Alternatively call her on 07460 404577.