April 9th 2022
Members of the community in Bishop’s Castle & district created an afternoon & evening of musical entertainment, raising money to support families seeking safety from the military invasion of Ukraine.
The support was being provided by 2 ‘front-line’ agencies in Bielsko-Biała, Poland & Iași, Romania – places where there were existing links with Bishop’s Castle, made through EU funded partnership programmes conducted since 2003.
They are contrasting agencies but the issues (assisting displaced Ukrainian families) are identical.
Fundația Serviciilor Sociale Bethany is a professional organisation (established for over 20 years) to assist families in need
WSEH ‘University of Economics and Humanities‘ has formally established a voluntary group ‘SUPPORT’ whose purpose is to work with displaced Ukrainian families.
Background information & pictures at of the event can be viewed at:
More than 8 million refugees have… left Ukraine, … an estimated 8 million people had been displaced within the country by 3 May. Approximately one-quarter of the country’s total population had left their homes in Ukraine by 20 March. 90% of Ukrainian refugees are women and children.
Official United Nations figures state (21st June 2022) there are 4,146,144 refugees in Poland (PL) & 691,413 in Romania (RO)
Population Ratios of
957:100,00 in PL
514:100,00 in RO
(by comparison UK is c.10:100K)
In both Iași and Bielsko-Biała there are 3000 displaced Ukrainians present as residents, uncertain as to when and how they might be re-united with family members remaining in Ukraine.
How were the donations used assist?
An independently funded ‘Whistle-Stop’ Tour:
Visiting partners in Romania & Poland
In Iași (Romania) & Bielsko-Biała (Poland)
The visits had 2 main purposes
- To learn how the donations made by people on 9th April have supported activities
- To assess needs and discover how further support (if required) might be developed.
Two additional purposes were requested separately by both agencies being visited.
- share experience
- gather and share general advice relating to family support services
These became a major feature of the visit. Detailed discussion occurred with partners & others who encountered 'en route' in Hungary, Slovakia & Germany.
“The situation is getting more and more difficult every day. it’s been three months of war and this is quite a long time. people need different kinds of support. For example, learning English, educating their children, and food is also very important. since it has already been 3 months of the war, as I said earlier, and people’s resources are running out, panic and depression begin. thank god luchian supports people with food in his warehouse as it is the only place where people can get normal food like milk, sausage, eggs, butter and oil. Ukrainian refugees especially need this.”Ukrainian English teacher from Odesa
The experiences gained, plus contacts made with others en route (in Hungary & Slovakia), emphasised the highly complex and rapidly changing situations that all those assisting Ukrainians are having to manage.
The families being supported are experiencing pressures, development & change with their own thoughts, desires and attitudes.
The fund raising in Bishop’s Castle focused on places and people where there were existing links.
Supporting known & trusted agencies proved valuable as the visitors gained direct experience of the ways in which the partners were using the finance that had been generously provided….and were able, to a degree, share in the process of decision making.
It allowed an assessment of a wide range of matters including other important issues: health & safety (especially, 'safeguarding'), educational & social provision, & longer term factors .
Tuesday 7th June
A morning flight to Iași, Romania…..
…… and a first meeting with Marinela Marcu, the key contact with Fundația Serviciilor Sociale Bethany who in March 2022, with other civic society organisations in Iași, established an assistance programme for Ukrainian families.
Mari’s present work includes researching and assessing the needs and requirements of Ukrainian families who have escaped the conflict & are now resident in the region of Romania near the Ukrainian border.
‘The voluntary contributions made to our local work are very important.
It shows there is external support for our local volunteers.
We are all learning but some actions have not been positive.
Some big international agencies have not been sensitive to the work by local people. They have ‘taken-over’ and ignored locals who had worked immediately rescuing people at the border. This attitude hurts – and for a country like Romania that has struggled to encourage volunteering, it is potentially damaging.’
Knowing that communities like Bishop’s Castle gave time and money to help our work is very valuable.’
Wednesday 8th June
Meeting Fundația Bethany.
Romania was severely damaged by the autocratic rule of its President, Nicolae Ceaușescu. Despite a general improvement in standards, the country is, when compared with others in the region, underfunding health, social care and educational services
Charitable foundations such as Bethany are highly important both for the services they provide & as ‘change agents’ in their regions.
Click to view:
First: meeting staff at the central office:
Second: the work being developed with Ukrainian families.
Fundația Bethany has been providing professional care to families and children for many years.
It extended its work to include Ukrainian families displaced by the conflict & have become residents:
- a total of over 3000 now living in Iași require assistance.
Rooms in a new building, the Agora Centre, have been hired.
The rooms and spaces will be used both for social and educational work.
(The middle picture above was used as a classroom during the visit & all agreed that no pictures of students would be published)
This is a new venture requiring new equipment. Money donated to Bethany from various sources (inc. UK) is being used for this project.
From the Bethany Facebook page:
‘So far we have 83 unique beneficiaries who have participated in activities, out of which 49 are children and 34 are adults. The activities carried out are: June 1st – childhood celebration, 2 art therapy sessions for adults, English classes for children, 2 painting sessions for children, 1 group activities session for young people and children.‘
‘We appreciate all the contributions being made to help our work. In Iași we have had to manage large numbers of displaced people and are grateful that people who live in distant places are making an effort to help us.’
During the visit the first consignment of games for use with families was delivered
In order to provide its variety of health, educational & social care, Bethany has to engage in considerable funding raising.
- increase awareness of the work of the charity,
- raise funds to support the work
- engage volunteers
- develop civic consciousness
- are a public demonstration of the considerable needs that exist in one of the poorest regions in Romania.
Thursday 9th June
The most important fund raising event in the Bethany calendar.
(especially so after a 2 year absence due to Covid)
The largest charitable funding raising event in NE Romania (& possibly nationally)
‘Fundația Bethany is well established & very effective.
The Ukrainian family crisis closely relates to the work of the Foundation.
Developing projects is always difficult – and as the Balul de La Castel shows, Bethany is capable of funding & managing a range of large scale activities.
‘There is always considerably greater need & more work than there is money available.
The Foundation is grateful to those volunteers locally and in other places who have shared the vision & helped provide finance.
Vă mulțumim din partea noastră‘
‘We try our best to provide these people with help and opportunities so that their departure from home can be well endured. The community center we developed will offer them counselling, activities for children, material help, educational services and integration on the labour market.’
‘I would like to thank you once again for your support, and I hope that this strategic partnership will continue to help Ukrainian children and families together.’
Diana PĂIUȘ, Director regional, Fundația Serviciilor Sociale Bethany
Saturday 11th – Monday 13th June
Through Romania, Hungary & Slovakia to Poland
Monday 13th – Wednesday 15th June
A different place and different context.
The University, which has physical spaces available to assist their Ukrainian families, established a management group & has been working through the processes (some legal, some social) that will allow effective use of the resources available.
The period of the visit coincided with the end of the University year & a period of student assessment.
At the first meeting, on Monday evening the Rector of the University, began by requesting a 2nd visit (in October) in order to develop further aspects of the project. This was agreed in principle.
Most of the time was therefore used in discussing, with members of the management team, present and future plans.
The University is developing new courses on environmental matters are was particularly interested to know more of the environmental work being promoted in Bishop’s Castle.
Before the conflict the University had several Ukrainian members of academic & support staff. From the start of the project the development team had a Ukrainian member: Liubov Zharova.
Liubov was an existing member of staff, living in Ukraine & spending 3 ‘university’ days in Poland – but the conflict has created a completely unexpected element to her life & subsequent contribution: direct personal experience of the conflict.
As a resident of Bucha Liubov experienced the initial phases of the conflict & with some of her family travelled to her work-place (the university) in Bielsko-Biała. Her partner and son remain in Ukraine.
In acting as translator within the group she is better equipped than anyone who is uninvolved. The issues affecting those with whom she works as a volunteer are issues that are faced personally.
Her direct experience and understanding were extremely valuable in assisting a deeper understanding of the complexities being encountered by all involved.
One example being the tragic loss of Ukrainian’s younger generation – as in the example of Roman Ratushny, who died on the day this ‘progress’ began.
Liubov’s insights into the origins of the extreme & purposeless violence used in places such as Bucha was also very enlightening (& very disturbing)
We’ve had to change our original priorities. The trauma suffered by our resident visitors is great. The process of gaining their confidence has been very slow. Nobody is ready to engage in the ‘normalisation’ processes that we originally expected.
We have managed to achieve a a form of consultation & are responding to the suggestions that the group has made.
‘The group that we are assisting in Bielsko-Biała are very confused by the continuing war. We have asked our Ukrainian groups how we at the University can help them.’
‘Our Ukrainian guests really have no sense of long term security or purpose. They are personally safe but most have family members left in Ukraine, some near the centre of the war. They feel a complete mix of emotions – to return home so they can once again be complete families but knowing that this is neither safe nor possible… and that this situation may last for a long time.
The money that has been provided by people in the Bishop’s Castle area is being used to provide expert assistance which will assist people make personal assessments of their situations.’
The visit to Bielsko-Biała contained informal conversations with members of the management group together and individually. These were wide ranging, reflective and analytical.
The local team has devised an approach to achieving the goal expressed above evolved through providing a series of creative and sporting activities.
‘The process will provide regular creative and sporting activities for our generationally mixed groups. Each activity programme, occurring weekly, will cost 500 Zl. These will relieve pressure on mothers and provide space in which can begin to share together their hopes and fears – and begin to develop their own personal assessments & plans.’
The complexities faced by those displaced from Ukraine are mirrored by those who wish to assist.
Before the ‘whistle-stop’ journey began it was clear that all those involved (anywhere) in attempting to provide appropriate assistance needed to develop a range of responses – and were required to be flexible.
The manner in which this is occurring in Bielsko-Biała exemplified this complexity.
The 2 agencies to which money from Bishop’s Castle & area has been donated are both facing extremely complex situations with the ‘hosting process’ continuing for an unpredictably lengthy period.
Our Polish partner was very interested to know how hosting families in the UK were developing their assistance – and also how Fundația Bethany was developing its work. The sharing of experience – both locally and internationally – will have practical value and provide an informal support system amongst those involved.
Consequently, on arrival in Poland, gifts featured – including wine (Cotnari, local to Iași) donated in Romania & delivered in Bielsko-Biała
The University is particularly interested in developing new links – to assist in sharing ideas regarding the displaced families but also in a range of other topics.
As the journey continued across central Europe, through Germany & Belgium & back to the UK, conversations with others, from a wide range of countries, regularly involved questions about the ‘Ukrainian’ situation & its impact.
In former communist countries the conflict raised ‘old fears’. Questions were raised about how people in UK reacted with explanations, in Hungary & Poland, how people, at the start of the conflict, had made outline preparations to evacuate – by ensuring passports were up-to-date & having an outline plan of action.
“The Long Haul“
( a phrase implying an action will take a long time and a lot of effort.)
There is a sense, in June 2022, that the crisis which began, like Covid, in February will, as with Covid, have a much longer impact than originally considered probable.
Russian President Vladimir Putin still wants to capture most of Ukraine, US intelligence agencies believe…
…It means the war could last for a long time, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines says.
The fund raising event on April 9th functioned as an ‘outward manifestation of an inner concern’. It was an ‘expression of solidarity’. Those attending were imbued with & shared a deep sense of the cruel, violent injustice of what was occurring in the Ukraine. There was also a sense of community ‘camaraderie’ which allowed individuals to share and express their feelings – in discussion and in the music & song.
It is to be hoped that the links created through the support being provided by so many in countries across Europe, will continue & assist in uniting & developing new, strengthened international bonds capable of successfully managing not just this crisis but also other common issues.
In Romania the partner had already been using the funds supplied to purchase games (as above) and continued to access funding the develop the centre in which educational activities (in part supported by funding from Bishop’s Castle) occurred.
In Poland the donations from Bishop’s Castle provided the local support group to organise regular outdoor social activities.
2nd Visit to Poland & Romania
An opportunity occurred to re-visit the partners in Poland and Romania. One aim was to collect pictures produced by Ukrainian families and bring them to Bishop’s Castle for the Promise Auction.
Since June both partners & their Ukrainian guests had managed to develop a greater degree of consistency.
A comment from a senior manager in Iași
The visit provided opportunities for greater contact & direct discussions with Ukrainian families – but those discussions were not easy and frequently very emotional on both sides.
The realisation that the present situation would last for an extended period has been very hard for some of the Ukrainians to accept. It adds to the pressure of absence (particularly from their male relatives whose lives continue to be at risk)
In Poland we visited the accommodation being provided by the City Council & residents with whom the University Support Group were working.
After receiving art work that had been produced we were provided with traditional Ukrainian borsch.