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  • Grainne O'Dwyer

Are we doing enough to support the Ukrainian and Russian diaspora in the UK?

For the past couple of weeks, the heart breaking and devastating impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been all consuming for many of us. We are living in a time of unprecedented access to information and real time violence/fear via the news and social media. Every time we look to a screen we are presented with the lived experiences of war… petrified families huddled in a cellar with crying children watched on Instagram, videos circulating in WhatsApp groups of soldiers sending messages to their loved ones, university students urgently trying to flee beyond the Ukrainian borders documented on TikTok...

It is hard not to feel overwhelmed by the shock and sadness of seeing this travesty play out in real time everywhere we look. However, in this time of darkness what is most inspiring to us is seeing how people and communities across the globe have come together. People are channelling their shock and sadness into practical action to help the people of Ukraine with money and supplies on the ground, via conventional channels like fundraising and goods donation, and some less conventional channels like leaving children’s prams at train stations in Poland for refugees or renting rooms in Kyiv on Air BnB to send funds directly to hosts there. This display of solidarity is a beautiful thing to behold, but in this unity let us not forget that many Russians are against this invasion and are devastated by the actions of their country. They too are victims of this war and deserve our consideration and support.

At NeighbourlyLab this week, we have also been reflecting on the other key victims of this war - the Ukrainian and Russian diaspora who have made homes overseas - and our response to them. How are we acting to support both the Ukrainian and Russian diaspora here in the UK? Think about the Russian mum at the local school who has been visibly upset at pick up, or the elderly Ukrainian neighbour who we haven’t seen outside in days… Are we doing enough to check in and offer help to those in our communities who may be grieving the loss of their loved ones, their memories, their country? Does the British sensibility of ‘not wanting to bother people’, or the bystander effect of ‘believing that others might do it instead’ prevent us from acting?

In this time of crisis, there is a need to cast aside any conventional “norms” that may be preventing us from reaching out, feel comfortable with maybe not always saying the right thing and not always having the answers. It’s about providing a friendly face, a listening ear, and if possible lending a hand - e.g. with school pick up, or grabbing some groceries. In this moment of devastation for the diaspora, we hypothesise that even the smallest acts of kindness can feel mighty, and would encourage us all to do our part in helping to share their load.

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