Ukrainian church leader made MBE says refugees have ‘optimism’ they will go home

A Ukrainian church leader made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the King’s Birthday Honours List said refugees from the war-torn country still have “optimism” that they will return home.

Reverend Mykola Matwijiwskyj said he “wasn’t expecting” the honour and praised the UK for showing “humanity” by opening its homes to Ukrainian refugees following the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022.

The Vicar General of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London told the PA news agency: “When you look at the people that have come over – their optimism, their hope is unbroken.

“They do believe that Ukraine is going to win and the war is going to come to an end.

“There will be those that will remain in the UK, but the majority of them are still talking about going back home.”

Reverend Matwijiwskyj, 62, said the war had been “very traumatic”, adding that he had lost family members.

The church leader added: “I’ve got cousins in Ukraine who are fighting on the front line. I’ve had relatives die and injured in the war.”

He said of the MBE: “I don’t think it’s something that I’ve earnt myself personally, I believe it’s more an acknowledgement of the whole role which the Ukrainian Catholic Church has taken.”

The church had provided “one of the stables” in the life of refugees, he said, offering a place to “come to pray, to find safety and to find a quiet space”.

Reverend Matwijiwskyj also praised British citizens for opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees.

He said: “When they saw the injustice that has taken place in Ukraine with the attacking of our country, the people in the UK opened not only their hearts towards our Ukrainians, but also their homes.”

The chief executive of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain was also made an MBE in the King’s Birthday Honours List.

Fedir Kurlak, 64, said he was “very honoured”, adding that it was “thanks to the thousands of people I’ve had the pleasure to work with”.

Mr Kurlak said his generation was repeating the efforts of those who helped Ukrainians arriving in the country after the Second World War to “put their feet on the ground and understand what it’s like to live in the UK”.

He added: “We are probably best placed as children of Ukrainian refugees to give them the assistance that they need in their mother tongue and they perhaps feel comfortable in communicating with us.”

Mr Kurlak, who has worked in the association’s head office since 1985, said its Ukraine emergency appeal had raised over £3.6 million – with the majority of donations from ordinary UK citizens.

He added that a Ukrainian Welcome Centre set up in London had been replicated across the country, with 12 new community centres set up since February 2022.

A volunteer at the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain who was awarded the British Empire Medal said he was “honoured and humbled”, adding it was on behalf of the work of all members.

Roman Bodnarec, 70, said: “The true heroes, however, are all the Ukrainian men and women that have died trying to defeat this unlawful aggression, and save the land, the language, the culture and the people of Ukraine.

“It is to them that we owe a debt of gratitude, and the award is for their memory.”