Today, we marked the first anniversary of the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
During the last 12 months, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been killed or injured, while millions have been forced to flee their homes and are spread out across Europe and beyond, uncertain of when they will ever be able to return home.
Along with many other local authorities and other organisations across the country, the London Borough of Merton observed a minute’s silence at 11am in front of the Civic Centre to show solidarity with all Ukrainians, among them the hundreds of refugees who have made the borough their home over the last six months.
In the space of a year, Merton residents have welcomed around 750 people into their midst with a fantastic spirit of openness and self-sacrifice, with more than 300 hosts 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 400 adults and children through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, while hundreds more have settled in the borough 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 organisation working to provide the best welcome possible to our new neighbours and friends.
Councillor Eleanor Stringer, Cabinet Member for Civic Pride, said: “Today is a sombre occasion, marking a year of conflict in Ukraine which has brought terror into the lives of so many innocent people.
“We have always welcomed refugees from across the world in the borough, recognising and celebrating the diversity that they bring to our wider community. I am so proud of Merton residents who have welcomed Ukrainian guests with such warmth and generosity.
“We hope that one day our Ukrainian friends will be able to return to their homes, but until that time, you are our neighbours and will always be welcome here.”
Officers have provided financial assistance, supported people with housing issues and advised them about signing up with health services and seeking employment. We are especially proud that there are currently 185 Ukrainian children enrolled in our schools.
We couldn’t have done any of this without our partners in the voluntary and charity sectors, nor the help of faith groups. Working relationships built up during the pandemic with the Commonside Trust, Polish Family Association, Age UK and Wimbledon Guild has allowed us to directly and swiftly support guests and hosts alike.