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BBC Shropshire Radio: The Dual Realities of Ukraine's Conflict Two Years On

Date: February 26, 2024

Press Clip Source: The BBC
Link to Source: Here (Tanya's segment starts at the 2 hr 15 min mark)

In the following segment, Adam Green from BBC Radio Shropshire, speaks with Tanya Walmsley, our Head of Missions for our Ukraine Programme. The interview is a segment from Green's daily talk show known as The Breakfast Show.

ADAM GREEN: Now, I mentioned earlier in the programme that this weekend marked two years since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and one person who has seen the impact firsthand is Shrewsbury aid worker Tanya Walmsley. She has been leading an organisation called the Nonviolent Peaceforce in the country, which is one of a number of groups supported with money from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I'm really pleased to say that Tanya joins me now. Good morning, Tanya.

TANYA WALMSLEY: Good morning.

ADAM GREEN: First of all, tell us what you've been doing in the country.

TANYA WALMSLEY: So, we've really been working since the large-scale invasion to help protect the civilians of Ukraine from the threat of Russian invasion and from the violence that has ensued on the population.

ADAM GREEN: What's it been like to see that firsthand?

TANYA WALMSLEY: I mean, I think it's really important to understand that the front line in Ukraine is about 850 kilometres long. And so, not only is there a very huge number of affected people who are in direct contact with this violence, but also the threat is nationwide. So, it doesn't matter where you are in Ukraine, it's very difficult to control or predict what might be coming in the skies, so ballistic missiles and drone attacks, as well as right up on the front line, or the artillery. So, it's a great level of fear and threat and trauma, as well, on the population of Ukraine.

ADAM GREEN: I know you've been talking about the strange contrasts you see between normal life and the horrors of war.

TANYA WALMSLEY: Yes, indeed. I'm based in the south of Ukraine in a town called Odessa, which is on the Black Sea. And I've also spent a lot of time in other areas on the front lines in Kherson and Kharkiv and in Mykolaiv, both newly occupied areas and areas on the front line. And it is a very strange experience to, at one point, to be trying to identify what may be incoming or outgoing artillery fire, and then the next, to be sitting in a very beautiful coffee shop in Odessa and enjoying time with friends and living some normality of life. And then 10 minutes later, the air alert will go off and you're running for shelter or taking shelter behind two walls or in a basement. And so, it is this great sense of like Ukraine is such a beautiful country and with great culture and great richness. And you can really engage in that, and at the same time, the next minute, you're trying to estimate what it is that's coming in the sky and whether you're safe in a basement space or behind two walls. So you do live these two senses of reality in Ukraine.

ADAM GREEN: Yes, it's extraordinary to talk about it. Two years is an awfully long time for this to have been going on, with no real end to this in sight. How are people there coping? How difficult is it for you to see how they're coping?

TANYA WALMSLEY: Well, I think that there is a great resilience of the Ukrainian people and almost a defiance in the sense that they also try to maintain a normality of life. And the humanitarian response in Ukraine is quite different from many other places in the world that I have worked, in that it has been a really largely and very strong Ukrainian response. So with the large-scale invasion, it was the Ukrainians themselves, members of the community, civilians who came together to try and keep themselves safe. And so huge groups of volunteers came together and started distributing aid and providing protection. I remember one of the strangest moments was when I signed an agreement with them with the volunteer group who were based in Kramatorsk, which is in the Donetska Oblast. And I thought to myself, I'm signing an agreement with the Kramatorsk Fishing Association, which is exactly what they were before the invasion— they sort of repurposed themselves as humanitarian responders working on the frontline, evacuating people, distributing aid. And so there's this amazing local response. But of course that still is still going on, and it is the strength of the response in Ukraine. And I think as it goes on, what we're seeing is really also a traumatized population. It is both exhausting and, yes, I think it is difficult to see the end in sight. And many families have people who have either been displaced or who have people who are fighting on the frontlines. And so, I think that trying to maintain well-being in the midst of war is an ongoing challenge both for international aid workers in Ukraine and for Ukrainians themselves.

ADAM GREEN: Tanya, thanks so much for joining us this morning. Stay safe. That's Tanya Walmsley, Shrewsbury aid worker who's been out in Ukraine, leading an organization called the Nonviolent Peaceforce.

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