Ukrainians host event as a ‘gratitude for the warm welcome’ received in Scotland

‘We wanted to do something for the community that sort of says thank you on behalf of Ukrainians’

On Saturday the 16th of July 2022, I was invited to a litter pick being held at Restalrig Railway path. The official Facebook page stated that the event was being held “as a small token of gratitude for the warm welcome” that the Ukrainians have received since arriving in Scotland.

The event was well-attended, with there being around fifty people in attendance. Those of all ages were there, young children as well as adults.

The first part of the session was dedicated to cleaning the railway path – despite it being a difficult job, everyone got involved. Later in the day we all gathered for a well-deserved picnic in the sunshine. As well as enjoying the delicacies on offer, we chatted and took photographs.

“Doing something is better than just watching”

I was also lucky to speak to several attendees at the event. The first person I spoke to was Marjan, one of the organisers. I asked what inspired him to run the event. He said, “We got together with a few Ukrainians and a lot of people were very thankful and wanted to do something for the community that sort of says thank you on behalf of Ukrainians.” He continued, “In Ukraine there’s a lot of similar things, community gatherings to tidy up, so we thought why not do something similar here? And then we organised it.”

I asked him what were the best ways Scottish people could help.  Marjan said, “Supporting the Ukrainian army is the key thing. Spread information, read fact-checked news. Make sure that whenever there is a cry for help you hear it – that’s the most important thing. There were already a lot of cries for help, very specific ones. It’s important these cries are heard and they are answered.”

I then asked him if there was anything else he would like to mention. He said, “Just that Ukraine still needs a lot of support. There is a horrible war going on and people shouldn’t forget about that. It’s on the mind of every single Ukrainian that I know. It’s really terrible to hear about the terrorist attacks everyday happening over and over. Ukraine needs to win this war. Doing something is better than just watching it… Hopefully Ukraine will win, little by little victories every day.”

“Some of my friends went to stay in other countries and there is no comparison”

I also spoke to another organiser, Zhenya. She said, “I’ve lived in the UK for the last thirteen years, eight of them in Edinburgh. Five months ago I abandoned my usual life and concentrated on everything Ukraine related. My parents are still there but my sister came over with her children so I spend a lot of my time with her and other newly arrived Ukrainians. At one of the gatherings we were discussing all the things Scotland has done for Ukrainians and how it would be great to do something in return. We really wanted to come up with something that anyone сould take part in so we came up with the litter pick and thanks to the kind help from Edinburgh council, made it a great success.”

She continued, “Scotland has been absolutely incredible and I can’t stop thanking the government and the local people for their support. Some of my friends went to stay in other countries and there is no comparison. Accommodation, meals, grocery delivery, bus passes, English courses, free attraction tickets are just a few things to name and the Ukrainian people couldn’t have been more grateful. Scotland has gone above and beyond in making them feel at home here.”

I asked her what were the best ways we can help. She said, “The best way to help is to keep talking about Ukraine and what’s happening there. While we enjoy our comfort and safety, many people are going through horrendous times, living under bombs and shelling, hunting for the most basic of things, learning to live without their loved ones by their side. We can’t allow people to forget that this is happening only a short flight away from here.”

She closed, saying,  “I would like to say enormous thank you to our sponsors who made the picnic part an absolute delight – Eastcoast Cured, Pizza Hut, Lidl, Nauticus Bar, The Leith Depot, Tesco, Ukrainian Club in Edinburgh. We are so grateful for their help, it was really lovely and generous of them.”

“I like it here a lot. I found a job, I have friends here.”

The next person I spoke to was teenager Sasha, who arrived in Scotland on the 30th of March. She explained that she was from the south of Ukraine, however up until the war she had been studying Marketing at university in Kiev. Since arriving in Scotland, she is now studying at Edinburgh Napier University. She explained that “there should be” a lot of Ukrainian students at Scottish universities right now as “there were a lot of people trying to apply.”

I then asked her how difficult it was to get to Scotland. She said it took more than a month to get here. The journey was a hard one. “I drove from Kiev to the Moldovan border with my Aunt’s friends. They couldn’t leave Ukraine because one guy didn’t have documents, so I had to go on my own with my cat a week before the war… The volunteers got me to the capital of Moldova where I met my Mum and from there we went to Romania, then from there to Budapest where we got our visas. Then Slovenia for three weeks, then back to Budapest. And then we flew here.”

I asked Sasha what she thought of the atmosphere in Edinburgh. She said, “The atmosphere is great, the weather is really nice now. The people are very lovely. I like it here a lot. I found a job, I have friends here. So I’ve really enjoyed it here.”

And how did she feel about the event today? “It’s really nice because I get to meet a lot of Ukrainians… It’s really inspiring. And after all we can play and eat together. I just found out there’s a woman from the same town I’m from and it’s nice to meet people from the place where you were born.”

Sasha concluded the interview, saying that she was “really grateful to the government that gave us an apartment and everything. The support, the food, events that they make for us – we’re really grateful for this.”

“I don’t have enough words to express gratitude”

I then spoke to Nataliia. The first thing she wanted to say was that she was “really grateful” to Scotland for letting her and her children stay here.

She came from Kherson in the South of Ukraine, which is now occupied. She spent three nights sleeping in a car there, where frighteningly Russian soldiers were checking every car going to the unoccupied territory.

To get to Scotland, she had to apply for a Ukrainian scheme. From there on, she travelled to Warsaw in Poland, then eventually to Edinburgh.

Nataliia finished her interview, saying that she doesn’t “have enough words to express gratitude” to the Scottish people.

“It is really interesting that in Edinburgh there are so many non-Scottish people”

I subsequently spoke to seventeen year old Illia. He came from Kiev, taking the plane from Poland and then onto Edinburgh.

He has been here since April. He was very positive about his experience of Edinburgh, saying that there were “very kind people”. He also spoke of the low prices for goods compared with the salary – it is cheaper here than in Ukraine. He spoke of the international feel that the Scottish city has, saying that it was “really interesting that in Edinburgh there are so many non-Scottish people.”

The main thing we in Scotland can now do is help and read as much as possible on the issue. Follow the links below to learn of charities to donate to, as well as to hear from more of the voices of the Ukrainian crisis.

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