Chester’s community response to the events in Ukraine has been immense.
I sense there is a real feeling that people here want to do something positive and meaningful to support Ukraine and its people against the brutal aggression of Mr Putin.
And that can be measured in the initial response to the appeals for material aid to support Ukraine and its people fleeing the war.
St Francis’s Church on Grosvenor Street, opposite the Grosvenor Museum, became a collection hub for the humanitarian aid donated in bags and boxes from people across the area. Some of the priests at St Francis’s are Polish, so will hear from their families and friends back home the stories of the thousands of refugees arriving in the sanctuary their country provides.
I am told the church was overwhelmed, physically and emotionally, with the massive response from the Chester public.
The Share Shop on Northgate Street is also a collection hub. Share was started a few years ago, by a group of people from Chester and North Wales, at the time of the Syrian Civil War, with a dual aim: Supporting the Homeless and Refugees Everywhere, hence the name.
Most of the time, the Share Shop focuses on the domestic issue of homelessness, working with the Cathedral, Cheshire West & Chester Council, Chester Aid for the Homeless, the Soul Kitchen and so many churches who come together to support those without a roof over their heads.
But as soon as there is an international crisis, it addresses that too. Convoys have left Chester in the last few days, driving all the way to eastern Poland to get aid where it’s needed.
And we need to keep donating. As Putin’s merciless and murderous pounding of Ukrainian cities continues, more people will be displaced and more will need our support.
There are some who would whip up suspicion and distrust of refugees and asylum seekers, but they are completely out of step with most of the country. We see the spirit of President Zelensky and his people and we are inspired to assist them in their struggle for freedom from Putin’s jackboot. So many Chester residents have emailed me offering their homes for Ukrainian refugees.
In this country we cannot understand the horrors from which people in Ukraine, in Syria or elsewhere are risking their lives to flee. Those who would turn them away in their hour of need are cruel and un-British. The true British response is fantastic support and the open arms of friendship, and Chester can be proud of the start we have made.