The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine that began over two months ago has displaced millions of Ukrainians, many of whom have fled the country itself. As of 9th May, over 46,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the UK either to join family members already living here or through the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme.
Cambridge students, staff and residents have set up several initiatives to support refugees arriving in the city. Many of the events held in Cambridge over the last month – from protests and vigils on King’s Parade, to educational speaker events at the Cambridge Union and a traditional Ukrainian pysanky (decorated Easter eggs) craft event – have been organized by Cambridge4Ukraine.
This group, founded by two Cambridge PhD students, the Ukrainian Language Teaching Officer at the MMLL Faculty and the advisor to the Cambridge Ukrainian Society, aims to raise awareness of the situation and funds for Ukraine, as well as support newly arrived refugees.
The Cambridge4Ukraine website contains useful information for people intending to host Ukrainian refugees, including guidance for supporting the mental health and wellbeing of refugees suffering from trauma. It offers to connect newly arrived refugees with prospective employers looking for staff, as well as providing resources for learning the Ukrainian language. The group’s “dream” is to “create a Ukrainian center in Cambridge that would serve as a hub for all interested in Ukraine, and could be a ‘second home’ for refugees.”
Elsewhere in the community, the Cambridge Russian Speaking Society (CamRuSS) recently launched its volunteer “Ukrainian Guests & Hosts Helpline”. They told Varsity that this scheme aims to “facilitate communication between Ukrainian refugees and their host families in Cambridge and Cambridgeshire” and offers translation services in English, Russian and Ukrainian, as well as information to help refugees settle into the area.
We spoke to a student who studies Russian at Cambridge and is volunteering on both the CamRuSS helpline and a separate initiative by a local language center to offer free weekly English lessons to refugees. She told Varsity that initially “it seemed daunting to be signing up for roles I feel wildly under-qualified to do, especially as I’m expected to be speaking a language I’m learning rather than fluent in.
“Within minutes of arriving to help out at the English classes, I was asked if I wouldn’t mind testing the language ability of the newly-arrived refugees to determine which group to put them in, which felt a little strange as I’m used to be on the other side of language tests! ”
Over the last month, Cambridge4Ukraine have been holding weekly ‘Ukrainian meet-ups’ in a central Cambridge church on Saturdays, while CamRuSS are running informal “cultural adaptation sessions ” for refugees in Russian and free guided tours of Cambridge for newly arrived Ukrainians.
The student volunteer told us that it was “wonderful to see how much of a positive impact can be made when people come together to help people who are most in need of our support.”
She added that she feels “especially proud to be working alongside lots of people who come from Russia, whose generosity and kindness in the face of their home country’s actions is inspiring.”
Cambridge4Ukraine is also trying to raise money to fund a library for Ukrainian refugees in Cambridge, to give them access to books and material in Ukrainian or Russian. The University Library ran a cake and crafts sale several weeks ago that raised over £ 400 to buy books for the library.
However, there are concerns that some aspects of Cambridge life – such as May Ball fireworks – could pose a problem when trying to help new arrivals feel welcome. A Cambridge resident wrote on Facebook that her Ukrainian guest recently heard fireworks and mistook them for gunfire, and voiced her concern that similar displays during May Week could be equally traumatising for newly-arrived refugees from war-zones (both in Ukraine and elsewhere).
Cambridge4Ukraine has been contacted for comment.
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