English town sends aid to Ukrainian refugees

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Diss, a quiet town in the east of England, defends Ukraine, sends aid trucks, prepares beds for refugees and even raises funds with a pub cocktail full of swear words.

Like many towns across Europe, the 8,000 residents of Diss want to help Ukraine, identifying with the immediacy and closeness of the conflict in a way that the wars in Syria, Afghanistan or the stranger don’t.

“It was very graphic, wasn’t it? On TV, we’ve seen pictures of people like us, and you’re like, “Damn, what if this happened to me?” said Debbie Gaze, who started a Facebook group to bring residents together and house those fleeing the Russian invasion. .

“It could be my grandmother. Maybe it’s my daughter… I would like someone to help me take care of them if the roles were reversed,” she told AFP.

More than 3.7 million Ukrainians fled the country during Russia’s month-long invasion, according to the United Nations, including 1.5 million children.

Many prefer to stay in neighboring Eastern European countries, hoping that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s devastating invasion may soon end.

But others are fleeing further afield, notably to Diss, about 130 kilometers northeast of London.

Diss is a pretty typical English market town, with tea rooms, a quaint antique shop and a sign warning drivers to watch out for ducks crossing the road.

“It’s beautiful here, and it’s quite rural, but it can also be quite lonely,” Gaze said.

Within 24 hours of starting her online group, she had over 200 people in the small community saying “count me in, what can I do?”.

Residents reached out to fleeing Ukrainians via social media and helped them with visa applications.

– Fairly isolated –

On top of a hilly field just outside the city, near a Royal Air Force base dating from the Second World War, Tanya Chenery prepares a caravan in her garden to welcome Ukrainian refugees.

She was in contact with a 31-year-old mother who fled Kyiv with her children, aged 8 and 11.

The mother’s sister also fled Ukraine with her two daughters and Chenery hopes they can all move in nearby.

“So luckily we will try to keep them together as a family,” she added.

“I have a close neighbor who lives up the street and who has offered her house to her sister and her two children as well.

“I explained to him that we live in the countryside, and it’s very quiet, can be quite isolating,” she said, her dogs rolling in the grass and the daffodils dancing in the gentle breeze.

British authorities said this week they had issued 18,600 visas under Ukraine’s family scheme, with 34,500 applications submitted.

In a warehouse across the fields, Jordan Coleman loads a family moving company truck with boxes of medical supplies, food, baby products and camping gear, to be driven to Korczowa, near the Polish border -Ukrainian.

“It all started with a pack of cookies at nine in the morning, and by lunchtime we probably had half a truckload already,” she said of the first day’s collection. .

“I’m a mother of four, so seeing the pictures of women and children having to leave their husbands really touched me.”

Inside the parcels sent to the border are drawings, poems and prayers of support from local school children.

– Do your part –

Bev Kemberry, the owner of the Burston Crown bar, serves a round of her fundraising drink in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

It costs £5 (about $6.50 or six euros) and has a name containing two words, one a swearword, the other “Putin”.

‘It’s mango and vodka, and Blue Curacao and Bacardi,’ she said, adding that it had raised £340 for victims of the Ukraine conflict since it launched a year ago. one week.

“It’s very, very popular,” said Kemberry, who runs the pub with her husband Steve.

“My husband and I were watching the news, like everyone else, we were really upset seeing on the news what was happening to families who are like us.

“It just brought home that it’s not that far. And you just want to do your little part.

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