Tonight we met for a talk about the work that Alla Bredik, a Ukrainian teacher, has been doing in Leeds schools helping refugee children from the Russian invasion settle in and adapt. Alla arrived in Leeds in May 2022 with her teenage daughter and was accommodated by a sponsor in Roundhay. With some financial assistance from our club, and a contribution from our Rotary District, Alla was able to run English lessons for refugee families, based at CATCH in Harehills. She is now making a significant contribution as a teaching assistant at Allerton High School. Her daughter has progressed through school and has now embarked on a media course at college.
Alla began her presentation by graciously thanking us for our financial support and thanking the British people generally for our support for Ukraine.
The mood of the meeting then switched abruptly as Alla then gave us a personal description of the evil of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the war that has followed. As Jean Clennell remarked in proposing a vote of thanks, we’ve all seen the news reports on television, but hearing directly from someone who has lived through those horrors is very moving. Alla’s account, simply delivered but under the press of emotions, was listened to in total silence.
With Alla’s permission, I recorded her presentation, and what follows is a partial transcript of her own words.
Before and after… Everyone Ukrainian remembers the terrible morning when we were woken at 5 am by phone calls from relatives, by sounds of missiles. We were desperate because we got to know a terrible fact: that war had started, and Russia was bombing Ukrainian cities.
Since then I haven’t gone to work. The schools closed and we stayed at home and waited to hear the order what to do next. We watched the latest news and packed our anxious suitcases.
Since then I started having anxiety and when I heard the alarm I started to panic. My hands and feet were shaking, I could not sleep and could not come to my senses even after the alarm ended.
We could go to shelter but running to the shelters in the first days of the war took a lot of time because there were not shelters for everybody. It was better to stay at home and hide in the bathroom or the corridor. Even small children know the golden rule of ‘two walls’, where is the safest place to hide during the bombing. Every time we heard the instruction ‘Attention, go to shelter, stay in shelter’ my daughter and I panicked . There were victims every day. We heard terrible news from the war and our life has completely changed.
The situation in Kiev was even worse. Russian troops were almost in the centre of Kiev. My son and daughter in law and two year old grandson lived in Kiev, in a high rise building, where they slept in the corridor afraid to approach the window or leave the building. Those who did try to escape included our friends, many of whom were shot on the way by Russians. Bridges were blown up and there was nowhere to go.
I remember the first month of the war when people kneeled before Russian tanks. They were not afraid of Russian tanks. They kneeled before the tanks and prayed. ‘Please do not come to our cities. We do not need you. We do not ask you to come to defend us. We do not need you as defenders. We can do everything on our own.’
Russians were very rude. They killed people in the streets, they raped women, even children, and stole everything they could from people’s houses, killed people and wanted to occupy their houses.
Alla then showed us a series of photographs: first her home town before the invasion, a beautiful city in western Ukraine, with red squirrels in the parks. This was contrasted with pictures of smoke rising from explosions above the city. The power of explosion made people fall out of their beds and shattered their windows. There were several bombs, more than ten in one night.
We were then shown the local cemetery, crammed with kneeling mourners surrounded by Ukrainian flags, flowers and photographs of the fallen; one with a little boy kissing an image of his father as he laid his flowers beside it. Also pictures of abandoned pets. There were many stray animals. They need help too.
Other images showed a museum in Odessa which had survived assault by the Nazis in the Second World War, only to be struck by Russian missiles last year. We were shown flood damage, bombed out schools, churches and hospitals, bewildered survivors both very old and very young, clinging to the wreckage of bomb damaged buildings. Rescuers and the dog which has become a national hero, featured on postage stamps, because of its ability to sniff out landmines.
Alla then spoke of the indomitable spirit of the people.
We are a democratic, developing country. All people lived happily and successfully. People had businesses. The Kremlin tried to win very quickly, in ten days, but it failed. After the war began, people tried not to give up, and imagined different ideas how to survive. In blackout last year they managed to put on generators and continue to work. Russia, much bigger and with resources higher than Ukraine, is mobilising the economy resources and military equipment for a very long war. It seeks to strangle Ukraine in a war of attrition. Russia will reprise attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in the coming winter as it did last winter, seeking to demoralise the people, but will never undermine the minds of the Ukrainian people, who have had enough and will never give up. I am very proud of how Ukrainian soldiers are fighting in a brave way, but they need more weapons.
Alla brought her daughter to England in May 2022, to save her life. Her daughter in law and grandson fled to Germany. Alla’s son remains at home, working as a volunteer helping civilians with food supplies, helping abandoned animals, travelling to hotspots behind the lines and making documentaries about the war. He is liable to call up to fight on the front at any time.
Courageously, Alla’s daughter recently went back to visit Ukraine with some friends, to make a film about how teenagers survive the war. Alla told us that as she spoke to us, her daughter was on a flight back to Manchester. I can’t stop her – they want to show people across the world how teenagers keep their spirits up and how they help our country and our armed forces.
Alla’s final slide was the simple message, Pray for Ukraine.
We met against the backdrop of the recent and continuing terrible events in Israel and Gaza, where once again innocents are suffering and dying because of ancient hatreds. We have to rely on the next generations to get us out of this cycle of despair, as we make our final toast;
Rotary and Peace, the World Over.
Get in touch with Roundhay Rotary Club:
0113 266 6203