Yasenia, aged 9 singing at Ukraine Independence Day event outside York Minster
Yasenia, aged 9 singing at Ukraine Independence Day event outside York Minster

Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central lead the celebrations at York Minster yesterday evening for Ukraine Independence Day. An evening of singing and reflection was held to mark the significant date in which commemorates 31 years since Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union.

Although the evening which is a significant date in the Ukrainian calendar was to celebrate Independence, it was a bitter sweet day as it marked six months to the day of the Russian invasion of Ukriane. In their struggle to defend their territory and protect their people, culture, and way of life, Ukrainians have demonstrated remarkable resilience, fortitude and resolve.

As the 31st anniversary of the Ukrainian Independence Day fell on 24 August, York gathered outside the Minister with the Ukrianian diaspora to show solidarity and support with the whole of Ukraine while also celebrating Ukrainian culture and music.   York, which is a Human Rights City has so far welcomed over 300 Ukrainians as generous residents have welcomed them into their homes.

The evening started with singing from 9 year old Yasenia followed by 14 year old George who both sang in Ukrainian. They quickly won the hearts of the crowd as they sang traditional and popular songs from their nation. There were speeches of gratitude from Ukrainians who have found solace in our City and were grateful that York stands with Ukraine.

Rachael Maskell MP speaking outside York Minster for Ukraine Independence Day
Rachael Maskell MP speaking outside York Minster for Ukraine Independence Day

Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central says “I have been overwhelmed with the generosity of the people of York who have opened their hearts and their homes to Ukrainians since the start of the conflict 6 months ago today.  We all remember the horror of when the news broke and our minds instantly turned to the people of Ukraine who were caught up in the conflict which is why I am pleased to see so many people in our City come together and mark the day with the people of Ukraine.”

“It was a wonderful evening of song and celebration but also a time to remember and reflect.  I am proud to represent a City which has welcomed over 300 Ukrainians and thank everyone who has welcomed in a family or offered help and support in other ways.  There are a number of community groups that are emerging and would encourage everyone to get involved and to show that Ukrainians are welcome here and York stands with Ukraine”

Paul Wordworth from York City of Sanctuary says “Ukraine’s National Day, marking 31 years of independence and freedom as a sovereign state, was held outdoors in a public place for the first time in York last night. For that reason, it was a historic first for our city.”

“We met in peace, free from fear, and exercised our right publicly to stand in solidarity with the many Ukrainians who attended.  Those freedoms, which we take for granted, are precisely the ones which the people of Ukraine are currently fighting to preserve in their homeland.”

Rachael’s speech is below that she gave at the start of the evening:

Such a bittersweet day. A day of such mixed emotion.

One where we look back. One where we look forward.

In 1991, the shackles came off Ukraine as it broke free from the Soviet Union. We must always hold onto this hope until it is free again.

Today the sun is shining and we will sing and celebrate and dream, for a day is coming when the Russians will go home and the sunflowers will grow again

But we cannot shy away from the pain of the day; 6 months under occupation – fear and loss and separation.

Our city of York stands in solidarity. The bravest of men and women are standing on the frontline, are defending both democracy and country and are fighting for all our futures. Be proud as peace will break through because of their sacrifice. Your husbands, your fathers, your sons and your daughters – they are all heroes and give us all hope.

So through the sadness and tears we must celebrate their bravery and their victory to come.

As your hearts were breaking, as a city, our hearts were open. Open to welcome you into our country, our city of York, our families and our future. It has been the greatest of honours to have you with us, and we love you all dearly. Today it’s an honour to share 24 August, Independence Day, with you as you share it with us.

Thank you for enriching us. May I thank your hosts for their extraordinary generosity. May I thank York City of Sanctuary, Refugee Action York, York City Church and Gateway, our statutory services and our community groups, and all of you, standing here today.

Independence Day will come again and we live for that moment when we will come to you to celebrate.

Salva Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine!)

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