The Ukrainian national anthem sounded in the heart of Blackpool on Tuesday, and yellow and blue flags flew proudly alongside Cork’s red and white, as the ribbon was cut on a new support hub for Ukrainian people.
The hub, situated in Blackpool Community Centre, is named Together4Ukraine, and is founded by Together-Razem, a migrant-led organisation which has been supporting eastern European migrants in Cork for 15 years.
Together4Ukraine will provide a range of free services to Ukrainian refugees in Cork, including a dedicated Ukrainian speaking support worker, trauma counselling, English language lessons, as well as providing information, practical support, and a place for Ukrainian people in Cork to come together.
Currently opening on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it is hoped that the service will be expanded to five days a week, if resourcing and staff become available. “Ukrainian people may never feel happy here, but at least they might feel safe,” said vice president of Together Razem, Brendan Dempsey.
“This is going to be a hub for them, a community centre for them, and we want them to make it their own, feel safe, come in to even make a cup of tea and have a chat,” he said.
“I want to thank the community of Blackpool who gave us this facility, really on a handshake, I think that’s only really done in Ireland,” he said. The Together4Ukraine hub was officially launched yesterday by the deputy lord mayor John Sheehan, who called on the people of Cork to open their doors to the people of Ukraine.
“There are 30,000 Ukrainians who have had to come to Ireland not by choice but due to terrible, terrible circumstances. It is for us to try to make that journey and to make them welcome as much as possible by providing practical support, and that is what today is about,” he said.
Also in attendance at the launch were the Ukrainian ambassador Larysa Gerasko and the Polish ambassador Anna Sochanska. Many members of Cork’s Ukrainian community gathered in the hub, long-time residents here, and those who have recently fled their homes and the war that continues to rage.
Kateryna Bilohlazova, 24, is a teacher. She shared her harrowing story, from over a month spent in the basement of her apartment complex in Mariupol, to fleeing on foot, and eventually making it to safety in Cork.
She described gathering water from leaking basement pipes or melted snow, children playing with befriended rats as they sheltered underground, and sometimes the only thing to eat was hot water and honey.
“Every day was the same. Air strikes, rockets, shelling, bombs, everything was awful. A lot of people started to have panic attacks, it was hard to even sleep.
"All the day we just were lying down, it was just darkness, and we were just waiting, waiting for the end of all of this,” she said. Now Kateryna and her boyfriend have arrived in Ireland, and she said she is so grateful for the kindness of the Irish people.
“It’s amazing because I never thought I could be here. A lot of kind people helped me,” she said.