A Ukrainian refugee who had “two minutes” to flee her home with her children as Russian bombing began last year is now set to attend a Eurovision watch party in her adopted home of Berkshire thanks to the “love and kindness” of a local charity.
The Cowshed, a charity based in Wokingham, has been helping Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war and is holding a watch party on Saturday night for 250 Ukrainians who sought asylum in the local area.
Attendees will watch the grand final on big screens at the Reading FC Conference Centre, in a setting complete with almost a kilometre of hand-sewn bunting, chocolate gifts for children and celebratory flower arrangements.
Yuliia, a 40-year-old Ukrainian refugee living in Wokingham who did not wish to share her surname, went to The Cowshed after she arrived in England one year ago having fled Lviv in western Ukraine with her two young children and husband Volodymyr.
“They provided us with necessary items like clothing, toiletries, bedding,” she told the PA news agency.
“They gave us everything with such big love and kindness, and it was so important for us to feel that we are supported and that we are important.”
Yuliia added that in general Ukrainians are “very big fans” of Eurovision and they watch it “every year”.
She said: “I was so happy that the organisation (The Cowshed) with whom I’m working with now had the chance, with the help of the National Lottery, to arrange this party for all Ukrainians who are in the UK.”
Yuliia will be bringing her children along to Saturday’s watch party to meet “her Ukrainian friends” and new people.
“It will be a wonderful opportunity for us to come together in the same place and have a wonderful evening of fun, beautiful music and tasty food,” Yuliia said.
The Ukrainian Wokingham resident described the moment when she and her family heard alarm sirens on the first day of Russia’s invasion last year.
“I will always remember the day on the 24th of February, I suppose it was a normal ordinary morning as always,” she said.
“I went to the kitchen to prepare my coffee, but suddenly I heard alarm sirens.
“I couldn’t even realise that the war actually started but when I looked from the window, I saw people escaping and carrying their children, in that moment I realised that we were in danger.
“So, I just told my children that they literally have two minutes to prepare themselves, we grasped the suitcase and escaped.”
The Cowshed volunteers were busy on Friday sewing hundreds of Ukrainian flags and making sweet bags at the charity’s office.
More than 100 volunteers have been meeting at the charity three times per week to make a few hundred flags and put together bunting.
Sally Russell, the 57-year-old founder of The Cowshed, from Wokingham, said she organised the watch party after she saw that the National Lottery was offering funding for Ukrainian events in the UK.
“I thought it would be a great thing for us to do to help the people we’ve supported; it has been a really tough year for them,” she said.
“Just to be able to have a party and celebrate the fact that they won (Eurovision) last year, but they were not able to celebrate it in their own country, was really nice.”
Ms Russell added that her charity has helped “over 1,000” Ukrainian refugees since the war started last year.
She said: “(Ukrainian refugees) come to us and are able to choose clothing, bedding and any essential items like toiletries.
“When they fled their country, they obviously fled with very little, so when they arrived in England, they didn’t have any of the essential items that they needed, so we were here to help provide that.”