The Ukrainian War might seem far away on the world map, but here our reporter Carole shares her reflections, what the community have been doing in Bolton to supporting the relief efforts and how the mood has changed in her much-loved local – Bolton Ukrainian Cultural Centre.
I have, like many others I am sure, become quite emotional watching some of the news footage about the current situation in Ukraine, aching for those trying to decide whether to flee or to stay put – many of them, sadly, having little choice because of age, poverty or disability.
All the subsequent talk of a Third World War, especially coming after two years of a pandemic, is quite frightening, and makes me empathise even more with their plight – how would my family and I manage if it happened here? It would be so easy to become quite overwhelmed by the news, and focus on all the tragedy and negativity.
It was quite bizarre then, that when the news of the invasion first broke, we had actually planned to meet friends for drinks as usual the following afternoon in the Bolton Ukrainian Cultural Centre, which is just round the corner from our house and is, in fact, our local waterhole.
We have been members now for about five years, although I have fond memories of visiting after University classes some years ago, when there was a sort of illicit speakeasy quality to entry: pressing a buzzer on the wall beside the solid wooden door and waiting to be allowed in (or not!) because it has always been a members-only club.
It was a ‘secret’ known only to insiders, but as students we were grateful for access to reasonably-priced drinks and a cheap pool table! Back in the present day, we found ourselves a little subdued, and feeling rather helpless to know what we could do to help. Luckily there was already a collection being raised behind the bar and we were more than happy to be able to contribute.
A few days later a call went out from the centre for clothing, medical supplies, toys and anything practical, ready to be sent to a distribution centre in Wrexham, where it would join similar collections from other Ukrainian centres throughout the North West. From there, it would go straight to Poland, where many refugees had fled, and were in desperate need of support.
The support from the people of Bolton and surrounding areas was absolutely overwhelming. Local roads were blocked as people queued to leave donations and, as the hall overflowed, further appeals went out for boxes, and ongoing transport, to ferry the donations that had been sorted and packed by an army of volunteers, many of whom stayed until midnight to finish the task.
In total, nine trucks and vans, piled high with donations, were sent from Bolton alone. It would have been more but time constraints meant some donations had to be turned away. Bolton has had a Ukrainian population since the 1940s, and if they ever needed proof that they are part of the fabric of the town, they most surely have it now.
In the following days there have been a number of other activities, including a well-attended public show of support at Bolton Town Hall, which was also lit up in the Ukrainian colours of yellow and blue, and several local churches have held vigils and prayer sessions.
Monetary donations continue to flood in and local people are finding lots of ways to #StandWithUkraine such as: a local barbershop chorus recording a song, people crocheting dolls, making fairies, sunflower and heart badges, bands playing the Ukrainian anthem and residents displaying bows on their doors, as well as fund-raising quiz nights and dress-down days at schools.
I have become emotional again writing this article, after reading the stories and looking at the pictures, but for entirely the best reasons. The outpouring of love and support for Ukraine has been incredible, and the people of Bolton should be very proud of their response.
Yes, this is a heartbreaking situation but there is also still a lot of love, generosity and compassion around and, even when it feels like the world is going slightly mad, it shows that we can still find something a little marvellous to hold onto.
If you are able to help, the Ukrainian Go Fund Me page is https://www.gofunfdme.com/f/helpukraine