THE Fareham and Gosport Homes for Ukraine Group of Ukrainian families, hosts and supporters, gathered at the Podium in Fareham West Street to mark the first anniversary of the beginning of the hostilities imposed on Ukraine by their neighbour Russia which are still continuing.
They were joined by the Mayor of Fareham, Councillor Michael Ford and his wife Mrs Anne Ford.
No-one could have imagined a year ago that they would be gathering here in Hampshire on February 25, 2023, year and a day after the beginning of the invasion. The hearts and thoughts of these adults and children are constantly with the families and friends they have left behind.
It has been a tough year for all of us with rising costs at every turn but when you add to that the shock, fear, anguish, bereavements as well as the loss of their homes and all they held dear it is beyond comprehension for those of us who have no first-hand experience of such losses.
More than 40 people attended this event with some wearing the blue and yellow national flag of Ukraine which represents the blue of the skies with yellow standing for the grain that grew in the huge wheatfields which made Ukraine the breadbasket of Europe.
Many hand-made signs were held up with slogans like ‘Stop Genocide’ ‘Free Ukraine’ and ‘Russia is a Terrorist’. Each person held a candle which was lit and relit in the light cold breeze.
The proceedings began shortly after 5pm as the Mayor asked for a minute’s silence to remember all those who have lost their lives and have been displaced by the war. When that time of reflection was over the wailing of an air raid siren was then heard after which the Ukrainian national anthem was sung and music was played.
Lauren Brown, speaking on behalf of the group, told the Globe that there have been comings and goings within its ranks since we last met in June last year with another new family expected shortly. Some of the refugees have now found employment locally while others are still job searching.
In an article in the Globe last year mention was made of a young Ukrainian couple who had driven their car with their puppy across Europe from Ukraine, through several national borders on their way to England only to have the 11-month-old fully vaccinated dog seized and placed in quarantine in France. Lauren was able to tell me that the couple were now working and living in Southampton and the dog is with them.
A Ukrainian woman told the Globe that she had been surprised that they have been made so welcome in Gosport and Fareham and they were happy to remain in this area until they are able to return home once more.
Another Ukrainian woman, who has lived locally for over 20 years and her British husband, are an enormous support to the group.
Waterfront Baptist Church, in Grove Road, Gosport, provides the group with a regular meeting place which is much appreciated.
The lasting memory is of the candles with their protective shields being lit, puffed out by the breeze and re-lit time and again from the flame of whoever was nearest as night fell.
It was like a declaration of Ukraine’s vow to keep the flame of hope and defiance alive. “Ukraine is not yet lost” is the opening line of Ukraine’s rousing national anthem. And in their hearts it never will be.
PICTURED: Main image, Candles of hope for Ukraine as refugees mark the anniversary of Russian invasion; other photographs by Leslie Mitchell include Fareham Mayor Michael Ford and wife Anne with Ukrainian child at the town centre rally Save Ukraine posters and keeping the flame alight.