At Eurovision, Ukrainians Find Community Far From Home

Every corner of Liverpool was reminded this week that the northern British city will host the Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of last year’s winners, Ukraine. More than a year after all-out war by Russia, war continues to escalate in Ukraine. intrusion.

Inflatable chirping birds, decorated with traditional Ukrainian embroidery patterns, dotted the streets. In the city center, the monument was covered with sandbags as part of an art installation recreating the measures taken to protect the statues in the war-torn country. There were blue and yellow flags everywhere.

But perhaps the most striking reminder of Ukraine’s centrality at the event, which took place in the British city about 3,000 miles from Kiev, was the presence of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing war in the country. .

Among them is Anastasia Sidorenko, 33, who fled to Liverpool with her 6-year-old daughter Polina after the war broke out in February 2022. She has tickets to the Eurovision final on Saturday night.

“I feel like I’m in Ukraine now,” Sidorenko said. “Everywhere I go, I see Ukrainian flags, Ukrainian signs, and Ukrainians in national costumes.

She joins thousands of Ukrainian refugees living in the UK at this week’s Eurovision Song Contest after being offered about 3,000 heavily discounted tickets.Only a small part of the participants Over 120,000 Ukrainians in the UK As part of a sponsorship program introduced last year.

UK Eurovision Minister Stuart Andrew said: “I felt that if this was to reflect Ukraine seriously, it needed to include Ukrainians in the audience.” “This is an opportunity for us to be more celebratory and solidarity with the people here,” he added.

Last summer, Eurovision organizers ruled out contests in Ukraine and the United Kingdom. Sam Ryderhad finished second in the 2022 event, but was asked to stand in as organizer.

“We want everyone to have fun, but at the same time there is a serious message here that this should be happening in Ukraine right now,” said Andrew. “And the fact that it’s not is a stark reminder of the brutality of Putin and his regime.”

Demand for discounted tickets is high, with more than 9,000 Ukrainians signing up, Andrew said, giving them the chance to see the event “even if only for a few hours in one night, which distracts from the issue of displaced people.” said it was reassuring.

People like Sidorenko, Luckily, he was able to get a ticket, and evaluated it as “a bright spot in a difficult year.” Sidorenko, from Kharkov, a city in northeastern Ukraine, hid in her basement for 10 days when the war first hit her.

Ultimately, she fled in a convoy of women and children and crossed the border to Latvia, she said.

“It was really hard mentally and psychologically because it was different and everything was new,” Sidorenko added.

She then fled to Britain after connecting online with Liverpool resident Ellis Jones, who offered to take in Sidorenko, her daughter, sister-in-law and nephew. It was not easy at first for children who do not understand the language.

“They didn’t speak a word of English before, but now they speak English perfectly,” Jones said, referring to the Liverpool levity that can now be clearly detected in the children’s English. bottom.

“They are like little sponges,” Sidorenko said with a smile, putting her hand on her daughter’s head and talking about her school performance.

Two days before the Eurovision final, Sidorenko joined a group of Ukrainian women presenting a joint exhibition called “The Displaced: Ukrainian Women of Liverpool” in the city’s art spaces. The project features portraits and interviews of her 24 women who fled to Liverpool.

Co-founder of the project, Sidorenko, said it is a form of therapy for many women. This exhibition is just one of her many on display across Liverpool this week, reflecting a poignant reflection on the impact of the war on Ukrainians.

Ukrainians living around the UK also travel long distances to attend the Eurovision festivities. Oksana Pitun, 39, and her daughter Daniela, 12, who live with a host family in Southampton on the south coast of England, left home on a bus at 5:40 am to watch the semi-finals on Thursday night. . It took more than seven hours to travel, and I was planning to take an overnight bus home after the competition.

But Pitung said he was overjoyed when he managed to get a discounted ticket.

“We feel we are helping the country by doing this,” said Pitung. “And it feels good to go somewhere and participate in something without thinking about war.”

On Thursday afternoon, Pitun and his daughter visited Ukraine Boulevard on Liverpool’s docks, which was set up as a place for Eurovision fans to experience Ukrainian art and culture. Daniela conversed with volunteers in her native language and seamlessly switched to English.

Many Ukrainian refugees here want to return home as soon as it’s safe, but others are starting to feel at home in Britain.

Tanya Kuzmenko, 34 years old, was While traveling in Sri Lanka with her British boyfriend in February 2022, she woke up to news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We were in disbelief and shock,” she said. She felt she could not return to Ukraine, so she applied to join her boyfriend’s family at her home near Liverpool under a sponsorship program. She moved here her last summer.

Late last year, she launched her own digital agency and said she was thrilled to see Liverpool, which has become her adopted home over the past year, represent Ukraine at Eurovision. Although she failed to get tickets to any of the contest events, she spent the week attending concerts in the Eurovillage fan area.

She joined the Ukrainian crowd there on Thursday night to watch a performance that said: Jamala is a Crimean Tatar singer who won the 2016 Eurovision. Kuzmenko had the Ukrainian flag slung over his shoulders and his blond curls blowing in the wind. She swayed to the music and had a smile on her face.

She said Britons approached her when they saw her holding the flag, expressing support for or sharing ties with Ukraine.

“When I came here last year, there were only one or two flags, but now there are flags all over the city,” she said. “I’m proud of it. We’re part of it, and that’s great.”

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