Today, Ukrainians across the world – millions of whom are sadly unable to celebrate the event at home in their own country – will mark their country’s independence day, six months after the unprovoked invasion of their sovereign territory by Russia.
Along with many other local authorities across the country, Merton Council is lighting up the Civic Centre in the colours of the Ukrainian flag show solidarity with the hundreds of refugees who have made the borough their home over the last six months.
In the space of just half a year, Merton residents have welcomed around 750 people into their midst with a fantastic spirit of openness and self-sacrifice, turning over rooms in their own homes to families they had never met before or expanding their closer families to let relatives and acquaintances stay.
We have welcomed more than 300 adults and children through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, staying with almost 200 hosts in Merton, while there have been a further 243 families, comprising 265 adults and 172 children, coming through the Friends & Family programme.
There has been a massive effort by the council and its staff to deal with the largest and swiftest influx of new residents into the borough in living memory, with officers across every part of the organistaion working to provide the best welcome possible to refugees arriving directly from a war zone.
Officers have helped to provide financial assistance, supported people with housing issues and advised them about signing up with health services and seeking employment, arranged language learning courses, helped scores of children into Merton schools, among many other things.
Partners in the voluntary and charity sectors, and faith groups, have gone above and beyond the call of duty too, with groups such as Commonside Trust, Polish Family Association, Age UK and Wimbledon Guild providing invaluable resources to support guests and hosts alike.
Councillor Eleanor Stringer, Cabinet Member for Civic Pride, said: “As we mark Ukraine Independence Day, I’d like to reaffirm Merton’s support for the right of Ukrainian citizens to live at home I their own country without fear of violence or the threat of it.
“As a borough of sanctuary, we have always welcomed refugees from across the world, recognising and celebrating the diversity that they bring to our wider community. We are proud they have recently become Merton residents and they will always be welcome whether they choose to return or continue to live here.
“I’ve been so proud of the outpouring of support and goodwill from our borough’s residents: from those who opened their houses to host refugees, to those volunteering at the Merton Hub or working with Polish Family Association, through to people donating money to help the effort.”