In the cathedral-like vastness of All Saints Hove, one voice filled the space, rising to the heights of the gothic arches and beyond to the roof of Sussex oak. But the song was not in English and the singer was not from Sussex. Far from home in Ukraine, Nastya Bohdanova’s solo was a powerful lament which brought tears to many in the audience as she expressed their own sadness, loss and homesickness.
Those who were not Ukrainian needed no translation as we listened to this outpouring of grief. But in that space, which must have witnessed so much sorrow as well as joy, there was very little despair because the Ukrainians seem to be a people of hope, of resilience, of faith and above all of courage.
Stand for Ukraine
The memorial day for Ukraine, organised by Stand for Ukraine Brighton and Hove, was held on Saturday 25 February, a year and a day after the Russian invasion. There are over 500 Ukrainian refugees in Brighton and Hove. The Ukrainian community in Brighton and Hove is now a larger, closer group than before, but they are in no sense inward looking. There was a warm welcome on a grey day, with hot drinks and homemade Ukrainian cakes and goodies, and various collecting boxes for contributions labelled ‘generators’, ‘medical supplies’ and the like.
Ukrainian flags and ribbons abounded, as well as one enormous flag which children were decorating with their names and hand prints before it was sent to the front line. One of the side aisles hosted a ‘living library’ of people who were brave enough to tell their stories of life in Ukraine and their experience of an unwanted war.
A turbulent history
Sitting in safety and warmth in the church, replete with coffee and cakes, we listened with our Ukrainian hosts to the story, told in both Ukrainian and English, of their country’s turbulent history since independence from the USSR 33 years ago. Russia was always a threat; pro-Russian politicians were another, with Europe’s shameful lack of support when the Crimea was invaded and the ongoing war in the Donbas.
Two women, Kira Makohon and Vita Kostuchenko, held us enthralled by their narrative, shot through with glimpses of humour and a defiant sprit that refuses to accept defeat. Amidst the patriotic images they showed on screens, amidst the carnage and the tears, were pictures of jars of bottled tomatoes similar to one that was thrown at and brought down a drone. There was the farmer with his tractor standing in the way of a tank and there were the people of Kyiv making home-made Molotov cocktails.
Songs of sadness and hope
In between the chapters of history, we were treated to songs from the choir both of sadness and of hope – the audience all clapping along to Hey Hey Rise Up. Other members of the community read their own poems and somehow, for those of us who did not understand the language, the sense was led by the sound, and the overwhelming feeling of yearning reduced us all to tears once more.
In something of an anti-climax, but in a spirit nonetheless of unity with our Ukrainian hosts, there were tributes from local MPs, Caroline Lucas and Peter Kyle, the Mayor and councillors. And, given that over 80 per cent of Ukrainians identify as Christian, it was appropriate that there was also a Bible reading. We listened to some ancient blessings and let hope rise to the heights of those splendid gothic arches.
Other articles about Ukraine:
- Homes for Ukraine: how hosts and guests see it – Hanna Syvokin, Viv Griffiths & Pat Drake
- Christmas in Ukraine… and how we in Sussex can help – Iryna Olyanovska
- Everybody knows all the words: Razom, Pa3om – together at the Rose Hill – Marek Kohn
Information about Stand for Ukraine Brighton and Hove can be found on: https://www.standforukrainebnh.org/
Every Friday, All Saints Church Hove and the One Bread Cafe host The Sanctuary project for refugees living in Brighton and Hove, in partnership with the Network for International Women.