Posted on: 21 March 2023

By Dr Jai Shree Adhyaru

I was invited to join an Evening of Thanks on Saturday 18th March. Hosted by The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain and invited by the chair of the London branch, Vlodko Pawluk, the evening was a wonderful opportunity to meet others working to support the Ukrainian community. An opportune time to even more about Ukrainian culture and the centrality of coping and remembering as portrayed through music, song, dance. In true Ukrainian hospitality lots food and drink was provided to immerse us into the culture of a country still at war.  

Stories of love, separation, waiting and not knowing brought tears to my eyes as the dance group portrayed the joys of young adulthood in peacetime Ukraine, suddenly and cruelly interrupted by the declaration of a Martial State and the forced migration and separation of families that resulted.

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[Prolisok Dance Group]

A documentary film due to released was also previewed during the evening; I can't say much about it at this time but was touched to see a story told through the eyes of children: what matters to them, the questions they have and how they come to understand what is going on around them. Often the perspectives of children are lost in turmoil of war and displacement. 

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[The Bucha Blackboard,]

Through song, in both English and Ukrainian there was a sadness but also a determination that prevailed through the angelic voice Maryana Bodnar - a musical theatre actor and solo singer of the National Operetta of Ukraine. I was touched as she shared her story of arriving to London and being asked to sing at a fundraiser event and "like Cinderella, having nothing to wear having left with only a few belonging that I could carry". The dress she wore to that event and on Saturday evening represents the spirit of generosity that this country has shown -  A dress designed by Vivienne Westwood for Maryana to wear at a fundraising event, auctioned after the event and later donated to Maryana.

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[Maryana Bodnar]

Acts of kindness mean a lot, and to this community it has strengthened their resolve to keep going and not give up hope. "We are friends now; we are family"; a heartfelt statement i heard many times through the evening. The acts of kindness, a willingness to do something for no reason other than it is the 'right thing to do' was reflected through individual stories as well as gratitude for the systemic support from the government and its various agencies. 

Opportunities to understand the humanness that binds us and the pride people take in their culture and their homeland is important when working collaboratively in such a sensitive context. The war is ongoing, children are not sure where 'home' is and many hope to return to Ukraine soon.

In recent months, through the support of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, City of Westminster Council, St Mary's Ukrainian School and CNWLs Centre for Anxiety Stress and Trauma - I have been privileged to form a collaboration which has effectively reached and engaged children affected by the war. Through systematic screening conducted in the Ukrainian language, needs have been identified in children and their parents and 2 psychological stabilisations groups have been piloted on Sundays at the AUGB site. These groups have supported children to develop coping strategies through a programme developed by The Children and War Foundation. Parents have also shared with us their worries and plans to continue parent and child support are being worked on by the team at St Mary’s Ukrainian School with clinical specialists at CNWL’s Centre for Anxiety, Stress and Trauma.

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[From left to right: Orysya Novetska, Chair of the Board of Directors, St Mary’s Ukrainian school,   Inna Hryhorovych, Headteacher, St Mary’s Ukrainian school, Dr Jai Shree Adhyaru, Clinical & Operational Lead Ukraine Children & Families Response, CNWL NHS, Svitlana Opanasenko, Family Support Worker, St Mary’s Ukrainian School]

MP Felicity Buchan and Councillor Elisabeth Campbell were in attendance both of whom have supported this community through this most difficult year and long before. Through a culturally informed response, we have together found a way to meet the emerging health and wellbeing needs of children and adults impacted by war and trauma.  I hope our pilot programme will continue to offer support to those that need it.