Ukraine: Hope amidst despair

By ordering the Russian Army to invade their neighbour Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has unleashed suffering on a scale it is hard to imagine. It is truly heartbreaking to see innocent lives being shattered. Like most of us I’ve been wondering what can be done to help from all the way over here in North Shields.

Firstly, there is of course the national appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). This is a government matched fund linked to expert agencies who can deliver aid including medical assistance, to the people and places that need it most. I would encourage everyone to donate something to this appeal.

I’ve also been reaching out to my contacts across Europe to get a better sense of the situation on the ground as the refugee situation unfolds. A friend with a Ukrainian daughter-in-law told me of the frantic efforts to get the family out of the country to a place of safety. He also expressed his frustration at wanting to fly several family members to safety here in England but being prevented from doing so because of our current visa laws. Another friend from Newcastle who now lives in Berlin told me of amazing scenes in the central train station as the city opens up to receive refugees.

But what made me most hopeful was a story from Poland. My wife and I have a close friend who is Polish but has lived in Britain for nearly 20 years. Her parents still live in Poland and this week have been welcoming Ukrainian refugees and providing them with safe accommodation. This has been possible because they run a campsite to the north of Warsaw that mainly operates for youth groups in the summer season, and so was sat empty. In the last week they rapidly adapted their cabins (providing better heating and bedding) and have welcomed over 150 refugees, mainly women and children.

Finally, I think we need to take inspiration from from the example of our friends in Poland and Germany, and to prepare for Ukrainian refugees arriving in North Shields. Unlike most other towns we have a direct link to mainland Europe, via our ferry. That means we’re in a fantastic position to be the face of welcome for families who have been through so much. The people of North Shields have big hearts and I think we can make room for those who need care and support. Whilst the British Government has been slow to adapt the laws in order to welcome refugees changes are now being introduced. Probably the best option right now is what is known as “sponsorship”. In the week ahead I will be talking to a range of partners to see if a route can be established. If this is a subject on which you have any knowledge, or if you would like to be involved, please do drop me a line on:

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