Ukraine conflict: Meet volunteer who gave up NHS job to send donations to war zone from Peterborough church

Volunteer Alla Irodenko left her NHS job to help Peterborough’s Ukrainian church to deliver full lorry-loads of food and supplies to war-torn Ukraine.

By Adam Barker
Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 12:25 pm

“There is more demand for aid now than ever,” Alla Irodenko says, sitting on a pew in St Olga's Ukrainian Church on New Road in Peterborough - now empty after hosting Ukrainian Easter celebrations last weekend.

The 33-year-old gave up her job as an NHS health care assistant, working in hospitals across the country, to volunteer at the Ukrainian church when the war first broke out in Ukraine.

Since February, 14 lorries full of food and medical supplies have been donated from the Ukrainian church.

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Olesana Mauro (far left), Alla Irodenko (left), Margaret Anderson (right) and Luba Kelly (far right) are volunteers at St Olga's Ukrainian Church, in Woodston, Peterborough.

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‘We can’t fight alongside them but we help from here’

“If I was in Ukraine now, I would be reliant on people outside Ukraine to help in any way they could,” Alla, who moved to the UK from Ukraine with her mum and brother when she was nine years old, said.

“There is a shortage of food and medicine. We continue to send aid but there are more casualties - including civilians.

“We’ve all got families in Ukraine. We can’t fight alongside them, but we can help from here by providing them with what we can.”

Alla still has family in Ukraine - some of which live near the country’s capital, Kyiv, and war-torn Lviv - a city desperate for aid.

Her cousins continue to fight for their country on the frontline - and her elderly aunt refuses to join the 5.3 million Ukrainian refugees who have left the country since the start of the conflict.

“She said: ‘I’ve got an axe - I was born here - I survived the first war, I am not leaving Ukraine.’ That was all she said.

“You get people who say ‘what will we do in a new country? Who’s going to support us? Will we be a burden to our families?’

“It’s no longer headline news,” she said. “People are getting used to the pictures coming out of Ukraine."

Alla welcomes family to Peterborough

Alla lives in a two-bedroom house in Hampton Vale with her partner and two children.

The family has recently welcomed four family members, who have fled Ukraine, to live at their home.

“It can be stressful because they all want their own private lives,” she said.

“I’m not the only one [welcoming refugees into their home], though. I know someone with 13 people in his house.

"Everyone just wants their family members here so they can be safe.”

‘They come with only the clothes on their backs’

The UK Government launched its ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme last month where people living in the UK can support Ukrainian refugees by providing them with a place to live, rent-free, for a minimum of six months - receiving £350 per month to support them.

So far, 52 visas have been issued across Peterborough.

“If it’s a home scheme there is some support, but if it’s a family scheme there’s not - your family is your responsibility,” Alla said.

“There is a government welcoming pack - but there needs to be more communication and guidance. We get people come in and say: ‘no one is helping - what is going on? Where do I find information from?’

“People are scared. Some are on their own. Before the war, these people were comfortable living in Ukraine - but they’ve lost everything. They come here with only the clothes on their backs. People want to work and earn - they just need to know how to do it.

“We would love to help them, but we haven’t got the facilities. We’re all volunteers and we still need to work to earn money to support ourselves. There are people here who have volunteered every single day - they’ve got families to feed.”

Alla and the volunteers at the Ukrainian church will be at the Yaxley Festival and Peterborough Celebrates Festival - which are both being held from May 13-15.

They will be collecting donations and continuing to raise awareness of the ongoing conflict.

“We will have stalls at both festivals - the whole Ukrainian community will be there.

“It’s been a community effort. No person would be able to achieve what we have achieved on their own.

“Without the community we would have nothing."