English Town Sends Message To Putin, Ukrainian Refugees

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A peaceful market town in the east of England is uniting for Ukraine, sending aid trucks, prepping beds for refugees, and even raising funds with an expletive-laden pub cocktail.

Like many communities around Europe, the people of Diss, population 8,000, want to do their bit to help Ukraine, identifying with the immediacy and proximity of the conflict in a different way to wars in Syria, Afghanistan or further afield.

“It’s been very graphic, hasn’t it? On the television, we’ve seen pictures of people like us, and you think ‘blimey, what if that happened to me?’,” said Debbie Gaze, who started a Facebook group to bring locals together to host those fleeing the Russian invasion.

“It could be my grandma. It could be my daughter…. I’d like someone to help take care of them if the roles were reversed,” she told AFP.

Over 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled the country during Russia’s month-long invasion, the United Nations says, including 1.5 million children.

Many prefer to stay in neighbouring eastern European countries, in the hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s devastating invasion might soon end.

But others are fleeing further afield, including to Diss, around 80 miles (130 kilometres) northeast of London.

Diss is a typical pretty English market town, complete with tea rooms, a picturesque antique shop, and a sign warning drivers to watch out for ducks crossing the road.

“It’s beautiful here, and it’s quite rural, but it can also be quite lonely,” said Gaze.

Within 24 hours of starting her online group, she had over 200 people in the tiny community saying “count me in, what can I do?”.

Residents have been contacting fleeing Ukrainians via social media and helping with their visa applications.

Quite isolated

Atop a hilly field just outside the town, near a World War II-era Royal Air Force base, Tanya Chenery is preparing a caravan in her garden to welcome Ukrainian refugees.

She has been in touch with a 31-year old mother who has fled Kyiv with her children, aged eight and 11.

The mother’s sister has also fled Ukraine with her two daughters and Chenery is hoping they can all move in nearby.

“So thankfully, we’re going to try and keep them together as a family,” she added.

“I’ve got a close neighbour who lives up the road, whose offered her house to her sister and her two children as well.

“I have explained to her that we do live in the countryside, and it is very quiet, can be quite isolating,” she said, her dogs rolling in the grass and daffodils dancing in the gentle breeze.

UK authorities said this week that they have issued 18,600 visas under the Ukraine family scheme, with 34,500 applications submitted.

In a warehouse across the fields, Jordan Coleman is loading up a truck from the family’s removal business with boxes of medical supplies, food, baby products and camping equipment, to be driven to Korczowa, near the Poland-Ukraine border.

“It started with a pack of biscuits at nine in the morning, and by lunchtime, we’d already had probably half a lorry load,” she said of the first day’s collection.

“I’m a mother-of-four so to see the pictures of the women and children having to leave their husbands behind really struck a chord with me.”

READ ALSO: Ukraine War: We’ve Dealt Powerful Blows to Russia – Zelensky Boasts, Reveals Number of Soldiers killed

Inside the packages being sent to the border are supportive drawings, poems, and prayers from local schoolchildren.

Down the road at the Burston Crown pub, landlady Bev Kemberry pours a round of her fundraising cocktail in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

It costs £5 (around $6.50 or six euros) and has a name containing two words, one an expletive, the other “Putin”.

“It’s mango and vodka, and Blue Curacao and Bacardi,” she said adding that it has raised £340 for victims of the Ukraine conflict since it was launched a week ago.

“It’s very, very popular,” said Kemberry, who runs the pub with her husband Steve.

“My husband and I were watching the news, like everyone else getting really upset by seeing on the news what’s happening to families that are just like us.

“It just brought it home that it’s not that far away. And you just want to do your little bit.”

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