How the People’s Army is fighting Putin’s Russia from Preston, Lancashire
In the open kitchen of a converted rural stone barn a few miles from Preston, Lancashire, a telephone rings to announce an anticipated attack on a Ukrainian town that night.
It was just one of many calls, messages and texts that evening to their homes that evening as the Antonyuk family’s vast networks of Ukrainian, Polish and British friends worked tirelessly to update, help and desperately seek help for those fighting Putin’s army as he mercilessly attacks the land they were born in.
Business owners and business managers Ostap, 53, Oryslava, 45, and their children Markiyan, 25, and Yaryna, 21, are all now British but also fiercely Ukrainian, educated voices in a school cut-glass privacy of articulated children at odds with their parents’ more pronounced accents.
“We are British and yet we are also Ukrainians,” explains Ostap, 53, with pride for his two countries.
Don’t get me wrong, this is just a small corner of Lancashire from a grassroots army amassed from many nationalities and locations far from Ukraine itself.
A British army, wielding no weapons, but rather telephones, vehicles, donations, intelligence and an abundance of determined kindness and loyalty.
A woman living in a basement in war-torn Ukraine sends messages to Lancaster
Its mission is to help those ordinary people who remain in Ukraine and fight the soldiers armed with guns, tanks and bombs in little more than the day clothes and soft shoes they wear every day.
The situation of the injured is so serious that they desperately need military-grade first aid equipment.
In some cases, explains Oryslava, the string is used as a tourniquet to combat injuries from bombs and bullets as ordinary people on the ground fight for their lives.
Ostap, from Rivne in western Ukraine, came to the UK 21 years ago from a country plagued by corruption to ensure his children had a good education.
The former history professor and doctoral student did not speak a word of English at the time.
Now he talks, in passionate, teary-eyed English, about the Ukrainian people using wits and tricks to take out spies, some of whom have been embedded for years. Then there are the huge efforts to remove road signs or any identifying elements to confuse and slow down Russian troops.
But for them, it is not a war that takes place on television but in a country where their families live. Ostap’s parents and Orsylava’s mother have no intention of going anywhere; they are stoic in the face of war.
“My parents never thought about moving,” Ostap explained.
“They’re in the safest place, they’re self-sufficient and that’s their home. In a village, it’s a bit different way of life, they keep animals and have a little piece of land to grow their crops. fruits quite independently from supermarkets while there are shortages in cities.”
Meanwhile, Oryslava’s mother lives alone. “I am one of five, my father is one of four,” she says. “I have a lot of cousins with a lot of children and a big family. But I’m the only one, my father died a few years ago and my mother – 70 this year – is still here so it’s worrying. She is in Lviv which is next to the Polish border and she lives alone, but she says she is a bit too old to come and change her life in a meaningful way. She would miss her friends and people and because language barriers, she can’t speak, so she decided not to come, even now that we have the possibility to bring her here.”
Until war broke out, they were enjoying life, only a month away from an extended vacation with family and friends in Ukraine in the weeks before Putin left.
It was devastating, if not unexpected.
“It’s new to the world but in Ukraine, but we knew one day it would happen because we’ve been in Russia’s shadow for so many years,” says Ostap.
“Even after we became independent and had a Ukrainian president, we understood that the KGB, which is based in Moscow, still had control. You can’t change this system. Russia still has enormous power in our country.”
And he explained that it is in the psychology of Ukrainians to stand up to bullies.
“Our parents and loved ones, no matter how old or how young, no matter what, we will fight,” he explained. “We will stand and we will fight! There is a lot of history if you look back, we are still fighting. Mentally or psychologically we knew this was coming, we are ready.”
Even 21-year-old Stonyhurst College-educated Yaryna, who was just a baby when she arrived on British shores, supports that view.
Her friends, she says, are surprised by her internalized patriotic determination and the strength of the country where she was born.
“My friends think it’s so impressive that we don’t back down. But we have always fought for independence, so the patriotism we have for Ukraine is instilled in our mentality.
“It made us not want to give up; the Ukrainian people would sincerely rather lose their lives than become part of Russia again.
“In that sense, a lot of my friends are shocked to see the president himself on the front line – it demonstrates the kind of patriotism we have.”
Many family members and friends of the Antonyuks were displaced due to the war.
Ostap’s brother and family, who lived next to a military base halfway between Kiev and Lviv and a specific target, moved to his parents’ house in a rural village near the Polish border on the day the war broke out.
They are safe at the moment, but another close family member was not so lucky, fleeing to Poland with her three very young children and few possessions, she crossed hours from a point of scheduled appointment.
Immediately, the Antonyuk family sprang into action. Oryslava’s extensive Polish network, made up of years of owning and running Eastern European stores in Lancashire and Manchester, helped her find someone to welcome the mum-of-three to this part of Poland. She is now a statistic; one of 10 million Ukrainians displaced by conflict but safe.
The family was overwhelmed by the generosity of the people of their Britain, if overwhelmed by the inaction of the government itself.
Yaryna says: “We understand why troops are not being sent in, everyone is worried about a third world war but even just closing the skies – it will keep us alive and keep fighting.
“It would already be much more useful than financial and economic sanctions. People are dying now.”
In Manchester alone, where the family are members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, they have amassed 45 pallets of donations, mostly clothes and items collected by the Polish community – but now they need some sort of warehouse to accommodate them in the city.
But most of all they need first aid equipment, preferably military grade, like tourniquets, gauze, bandages and more for the injured within the Ukrainian community.
If you can donate money for the purchase of medical supplies and equipment, please donate through the following account:
Account Name: Ukrainian Catholic Church, Oldham
If you are an individual or business that can help with large medical aid supplies, or can help with storage and logistics, please email, first, [email protected]