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'Whiplash reality': Shrewsbury-born aid worker reflects on two years of war in Ukraine

Date: February 24, 2024

An aid worker from Shrewsbury has described the “whiplash reality” of life in Ukraine on the second anniversary of the full-scale invasion.

Press Clip Source: Shropshire Star
Link to Source: Here

By Megan Jones

Two NP staff, one man one woman, with khaki PPE vests and the NP logo riding in a vehicle in Ukraine
On the road to Kherson

Shrewsbury-born Tanya Walmsley heads up the Ukraine team for international NGO Nonviolent Peaceforce, based in Odesa, and has seen first-hand the violence Russia has unleashed on the country over the last two years.

Tanya has always wanted to make a difference and remembers the famine in Ethiopia in 1984 and doing a Blue Peter jumble sale to help support the appeal. Her advocacy work started young too, typing a letter aged 10 to Saddam Hussein in an attempt to persuade him not to launch his invasion of Kuwait.

In the years since, she has worked in many of the world’s most hazardous trouble spots including, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and DR Congo, but nothing could prepare her for the shock of a war much closer to home and Europe’s first conflict for 70 years.

Tanya has been operating in Ukraine since November 2022 and spends time in some of the country’s worst-hit areas, including Kherson, Kharkiv and the Donetsk region.

On the second anniversary of the unprovoked invasion, Tania has reflected upon the reality of modern warfare in the battered country.

“The beauty of Ukraine is constantly coupled with the whiplash reality of war from one moment to the next," she explained.

“There is this sense of normality coupled with the extreme at the other end, with several daily reminders that you are, in fact, living in a war zone.

“In the frequent air raids, you can hear the drones that are targeting the city and then the Ukrainian air defence kicking off to repel the attack, and you have to remind yourself that it’s not normal, even if it feels like it is. Too much desensitisation is dangerous for us.

“At the same time, holding onto what is normal and beautiful in your day-to-day is an act of defiance and resistance for Ukrainians. It’s an important part of being able to sustain yourself through the horror of the war.”

After two years, Tanya said she is now used to the sound of air raid sirens.

She said: “It was like being transported to the last century, to World War II. But I got used to the routine of moving quickly when the siren went off and there was a nearby threat.

"You had to learn how to do undignified sleeps in your bathroom, with sleeping and camping bags on the floor. Bathrooms are often the safest place in the building, protected from shattering glass by two walls.

"You did get to know neighbours quickly though, and there was a great sense of solidarity, even when you had to sleep in basements and cook on a stove by torchlight.

“Small things keep you going though. When an alert goes out and we hunker down, our team send photos to each other which usually feature their pets, so I get lots of dog and cat content. It fosters great sense of solidarity and community – even at 3am.”

Tanya also looked back on some of the more surreal moments she has faced during the war, including an impromptu meeting that took place in a crater.

She said: “I remember standing in a distribution centre in Kherson which had a huge crater in the ground where a Russian missile had come in through the roof.

"A wonderful babushka who leads a group of Ukrainian volunteers gave us all tea as we were talking together, and we found ourselves weirdly gravitating towards the crater for a conversation on safety of all things. At that point, we thought that we should probably continue the conversation elsewhere!”

The UK Government has so far provided more than £7million to a consortium led by Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) to deliver humanitarian support in dangerous frontline locations.

As part of the HAVEN consortium of International and Ukrainian organisations, they support volunteers who have been working relentlessly to help people trapped near the frontlines, at huge risk to their own safety, with protective equipment, mental health support, and with life insurance policies that can support them and their loved ones if the worst happens in the course of their work.

There is also training for the Ukrainian military on humanitarian law and humanitarian principles, crucial for the protection of civilians in times of war.

In January, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced further funding to support Ukraine during a visit to Kyiv, bringing the UK’s total support to almost £12 billion.

He also announced a further £10 million in humanitarian aid for Ukraine to build on almost £357 million already committed to support the work of organisations like the NP.

This covers a range of activities, from support for the most vulnerable in society to providing shelter and warm clothing in the colder months. A further £8 million was committed to fortify and rebuild Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

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