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Ukraine Independence Day marked in Ilkley

Ukrainians living in the Ilkley area gathered at The Clarke Foley Centre this week to mark their country’s independence day on August 24th.

Ukraine Independence Day is an extremely important day for Ukrainians at home and abroad, marking their independence as a sovereign state over 30 years ago. There are currently over 70 guests from all regions of Ukraine, including 20 children, living with some 35 host families from Ilkley, and the immediate area..

On Wednesday they joined together to organise a celebration evening to thank all the people who have made them so welcome in the town. This invitation was extended not only to the host families who have welcomed them into their own homes, but also representatives of the various support organisations. All Saints and Christchurch have run regular coffee mornings with activities for the children, with language classes and advice on hand. Volunteer teachers have offered their services setting up English classes, others have offered practical help with things, such as school uniforms.

Members of the Hub group of ISSUE (Ilkley and Surrounds Support Ukrainian Evacuees), which was set up to assist in the coordination of support in the area, were invited to support the event.

Roles were reversed when our Ukrainian Guests became Hosts for the night. The Clarke Foley Centre kindly offered the venue at no charge, and was beautifully decorated in national colours of blue and yellow. Delicious Ukrainian bread by Lialikova Olena with a further variety of dishes prepared by Tetiana Matiusha and her 20 strong team. Glasses of wine and cold squash awaited the invitees…this was Ukraine saying a big ‘thank you’ to the people of Ilkley for the welcome they have received.

A full programme of entertainment was organised by the Ukrainian group, led by Larisa Korol, and was brilliantly compered by Diana Soroka in English and Ukrainian. West Yorkshire Deputy Lieutenant Suzanne Watson and Town Councillor Peter Mate opened the evening, with an apologetic but warm welcome on behalf of our MP Robbie Moore and Town Mayor, Mark Stidworthy.

The programme began with the Ukraine National Anthem, this brought the whole room to their feet, sung by all the children in national costume, bringing tears to a few eyes…- a moving tribute to a proud and independent people.

A film and soundtrack took the room on a tour of cities now strangely familiar to the Hosts and locals, …the port of Odessa, Lviv and the capital city of Kyiv, the Carpathian Mountains and the fields of grain…all now too familiar to us from our nightly diet of shocking news.

The wonderful children, many in national costume, entertained us with poetry and song, some now with words of English learned in their local schools, where most were placed soon after their arrival in the town. They also performed a national dance which received great applause and 11 year old, Kamilla Bespalova choreographed her own interpretation of a poignant song about the plight of Ukraine and the importance of love.

The woodwind section of the Two Rivers band and ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ also entertained us with music and song, both groups having members who are hosting Ukrainian guests. Anna Tsurkan entertained us with songs and presentations, and Anna Anistratenko and Sophie Pitcairn, sang the powerful and moving Adele/Dylan song ‘Make You Feel My Love’.

The audience learnt about the traditions and culture of the Ukraine throughout the evening which ended with a presentation to host families of traditional Ukrainian ‘Motanka’ winding dolls, hand-made by a small group of our Ukrainian women.

Gatherings for Hosts and Guests have been taking place for some months at All Saints and Christchurch, but this was clearly the first time some of our Ukrainian families and children had actually met each other face-to-face, and had come together in such large numbers…for some, these were new introductions.

When asked for her impressions of the evening, Suzanne Watson said: “It was an immense privilege to represent the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire and Her Majesty The Queen at our local community’s Ukrainian Independence Day Celebrations. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet many of the hosts who are providing sanctuary to Ukrainian families including children, parents and grandparents and to speak with the many local volunteers who are offering their time to teach English and provide many additional means of support.

“The warmth and heartfelt welcome was matched by a fierce determination to not only survive but to thrive here in Ilkley, Addingham and Burley and I was inspired by stories of teenagers still undertaking their studies remotely in Kyiv and of finding new employment here in West Yorkshire, all the while supporting their parents and grandparents in learning English and adapting to British culture. While some in the room were separated from husbands, fathers and sons, the collective unity and strength was clear to see, and the entire evening was a powerful reflection of the Ukrainian people’s commitment to continued independence and of our local Ukrainian community’s resilience and devotion to each other, and to their country.”


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