Ukrainians hope for peace as they spend another Christmas in Scotland

Those who have been rehomed in Glasgow and Edinburgh say the communities they have created provide safety and support.

Ukrainians living in Scotland have been speaking of their hopes for peace as they prepare to spend another festive season far from their homeland and separated from loved ones.

This year, Ukraine will celebrate Christmas according to the Western calendar on December 25 for the first time, distancing itself from the Russian date of January 7.

Those who have been rehomed in Glasgow and Edinburgh say the communities they have created in Scotland provide safety and support, but their minds are never far from those they have left behind. 

Weaving for the frontline

In the corner of a room in Princes House in Glasgow city centre, a small group of Ukrainian women sing as they weave. The camouflage nets they are making are bound for the frontline.

The strands of fabric they are tying onto plastic netting now includes white material for use in snow. It is another reminder of the changing seasons for some of the volunteers, who have been separated from their loved ones for almost two years.

Jenya Shulha fled the war with her son Yassan Ahmed, who is almost three. Jenya says weaving has become a form of therapy.

She told STV News: “You feel a sense of power when you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with your people. When I come here, all my thoughts are with Ukraine and with our land. We do this to help our people to survive.”

Thinking ahead to Christmas, a time when they would normally celebrate as a family, is also difficult for Natalia Matsenko and her 19-year-old daughter, Yeyheniia.

Natalia Matsenko and her 19-year-old daughter, Yeyheniia.

Nataliia, 51, spends almost every day weaving. “We leave a part of our soul in every net,” she said.

“I hope these nets can help our people to feel more protected.”

Yeyheniia added: “The most important thing Scotland has given us is safety. 

“My dad is still in Ukraine and we don’t really feel the holiday atmosphere because of that. Of course, it is pretty all around Glasgow with all the decorations but to me, holiday should be inside of your heart and that is difficult for us.”

New home

This time last year, Nataliia and Yeyheniia were living on a cruise ship in Glasgow. Now they can spend their first December Christmas in a new home in Lanarkshire. 

Nataliia said: “We talk to my husband on the phone but it is not the same. It is not enough. My two brothers are serving in Ukraine armed forces and one of them was injured recently. Other relatives are also living under occupation. Every time we find an opportunity to call them, it’s really hard.”

Other women also find volunteering with Weegie Weavers helps them cope with the trauma of leaving their homes.

Olha Pantelimonova, 49, told STV News: “My mother is also still in Ukraine. Here I feel supported. We came to Glasgow under the sponsored programme and after many months, we finally have our own home. I have decorations so I have put them up and will try and feel some Christmas spirit.”

The work of the Weegie Weavers is reliant on volunteers and fabric donations. In the corner,  next to a pile of nets, is a wheelchair.

The women are looking to collect more and other medical equipment to send in their monthly deliveries to Ukraine. They also need more material to keep up with orders.  Their nets are used by the military to protect key buildings, equipment and ambulances.

Alesyo Korpekko said: “Some of the fabric comes in bolts or rolls but we also use old bed linens. Sheets are usually white so they are easy to dye and can be easily torn into long strips. We cannot use fabric that is red or blue. The best colours for camouflage are brown, green, beige and grey.”

The 41-year-old says her teenage daughter is struggling as she misses her grandparents. 

“A lot of people from Ukraine had just one wish for Christmas,” said Alesyo. “Our victory and to end the war in Ukraine. We want to have the chance to go back home, to hug relatives and go back to our lives. I understand life cannot be like it was as too many things are broken. We know that we will need to rebuild.”

Christmas lunch

It’s a sentiment shared by many who gathered for a Christmas lunch organised by the Ukrainian Community Centre in Edinburgh. The meal last Wednesday evening brought together different generations.  

Tanya Balanova, who arrived in Scotland last April, said: “Thanks to a group of incredible women, we have managed to build a Ukrainian community in Edinburgh. Many call it their second family.”

This year will bring a new official date to celebrate festive traditions, with Ukrainians switching from the 7th of January.

Tanya added: “Ukrainians all over are trying to get rid of everything related to Russia. That is why we are celebrating Christmas on December 25, so we can feel united with the rest of the world and with Europe.

“My parents, my sister are all still in Ukraine. I always worry about them all the time but with the help I receive here in Scotland, I am able to send practical and financial support back home.”

Back in Glasgow, Jenya is also thankful to the kindness she has been shown and to her host who she said provided “the best welcome in the world”.

The mother volunteers at a Ukrainian cultural centre in Clarkston and has created children’s programme to ensure they know their homeland’s traditions.

“It is very important to us to keep our celebrations in our hearts,” said Jenya. “We don’t know when the war will be over but we live with hope. Like all Ukrainians, we have to think this hell will soon be over.”

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