“This centre caters for everyone; people who came 60 years ago to people who came a year ago” – Ukrainian Cultural Centre continues to support the families who fled the war

A year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a cultural centre is continuing to help those struggling during this tough time.

Last year, millions of Ukrainians were forced to leave their homes during Putin’s attack on Ukraine with many flooding to the UK for help, homes, and support.

Many found that whilst they had a roof over their head, they needed that extra helping hand to get back on their feet. The Ukrainian Cultural Centre, based in Cheetham Hill, has been around for generations helping Ukrainians in the local area get back up on their feet. They also offer free schooling, help finding jobs and healthcare, as well as providing many recreational clubs to children and young people.

Gina Mandzij is a volunteer at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Cheetham Hill. She has been helping organise, collect and distribute the overwhelming and generous amount of donations received over the last year.

Some of the hygiene items donated for care packages (Image credit: Gina Mandzij)

She said: “Within a couple of weeks, people were bringing us so much stuff. Clothes, medication, children’s clothes, pampers you name it whatever you can think of. The whole of the ground floor was up to the ceiling in boxes.

“We had to make tunnels to walk through. That lasted for a couple of months and we were sending around 45-tonne trucks every week. People would bring stuff and just roll their sleeves up and say “can we help?”

Gina is the chair of the Association of Ukrainian Women in Great Britain (AUW) group at the centre. Last April, the volunteers in the committee began the work of the free refugee shop to help support the huge influx of refugees coming over from Ukraine with absolutely nothing. 

She added: “Some ladies were arriving pregnant so obviously they needed everything. People donated everything; prams, cots, so they could come here, sign in and take it away for free.”

Hundreds of boxes of donations have been sent from the centre to Ukraine (Image credit: Gina Mandzij)

Gina arrived at the centre 40 years ago to bring her eldest child to the nursery class on a Saturday morning. She has been volunteering since that day.

The Ukrainian Saturday school has been running for over 70 years and has seen many generations of families including Gina’s. Last year the school had less than 100 children, but since the sudden increase in Ukrainians coming over this time last year, there are now 220 currently enrolled. Most of the teachers at the school are those who have arrived from Ukraine themselves. Gina has been involved in the schooling programme for many years now.

“I came to volunteer and I’ve never left so I’ve worn so many hats here. I was the headteacher of the school for about 15 years, and I taught in it for about 25 years. At one point I was head of the youth association, and then I took on writing the programme for them here and the summer camp. I took on being head of the Association of Ukrainian Teachers and Educators, which meant I had to visit other schools that we had to support them on curriculum and admin.

“We’ve had thousands and thousands come through here, and they’re looking for if you like, their village. They’re looking for somebody who can speak Ukrainian, who can listen to their stories.”

Gina has had a huge influence on the curriculum not only here at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Cheetham Hill, but worldwide too. She has travelled to the United States of America as well as Argentina to help others teach like herself. She said alongside teaching geography, history, and languages, they wanted her to teach young Ukrainian children the motto ‘God and Ukraine’.

Gina and others continue to volunteer every week at the centre as more families come in needing that helping hand and support. She said their next stage of development is working alongside Mustard Tree, a homeless service in Salford, to help provide furniture for those who have managed to afford their first flat or property here in the UK.

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