'We can't fight but we can show support': Meet Leeds' Ukrainian community rallying as tensions with Russia continue

Leeds will show solidarity this weekend as the city's Ukrainian community express fear for their families back home.

By Emma Ryan
Friday, 28th January 2022, 12:36 pm

Viacheslav Semeniuk, who has lived in Leeds for the last seven years with his wife and young daughter, says it is possible that his 65-year-old father maybe called to join forces who will fight Russian troops should they invade Ukraine.

His parents, grandmother, two sisters, cousins and his wife's parents, still live in the Vinnytsia region in central Ukraine and he says no-one knows what will happen.

He will be part of a rally at Leeds Town Hall on Saturday (at 1pm) which is set to demonstrate that Leeds and its huge Ukrainian community stands with its nation.

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Olga Callaghan is part of the city's Ukrainian community who will be showing support for the nation with a rally on Saturday.

Mr Semeniuk, of Seacroft, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "I am really worried about them because the situation is getting worse and nobody knows what can happen. They all live closer to the western region so it might be not so harsh, but, if there is something going on they can mobilise older people who used to go to the Soviet Army like my dad. They can call them to stand and fight.

"He is 65, they might be needed. There will be a huge amount of troops coming in so that might be the case, we don't have so much army as Russia does."

Like many of the city's Ukrainian community, Mr Semeniuk came to work because their employers brought them to the UK. He works for Sky, while other members of the Leeds Ukrainian members work for Jet 2 or in IT work which is a big sector back in Ukraine.

Others are university lecturers or professors.

Viacheslav Semeniuk, who has lived in Leeds for the last seven years with his wife and young daughter, says it is possible that his 65-year-old father maybe called to join forces who will fight Russian troops should they invade The Ukraine.

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Olga Callaghan is 71 and lives in Bramley. Her parents came to the UK via Germany where they had been taken in the 1940s to carry out forced labour. She is from the Leeds Ukrainian Community Centre, based in Chapeltown, which is organising the rally on Saturday.

She said: "There are lots of Ukrainians in Leeds, a few have been brought up in the UK, I was born here in Leeds. There is a new wave of Ukrainians coming to Leeds, and the north of England for the job opportunities.

"For us born here we have family in Ukraine but it is more distant but they have parents and grandparents. The majority of Ukrainians have got connections in Ukraine.

The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain Leeds Branch, at Newton Grove. It has become a hub for the city's Ukrainian community.

"The rally is initially it is to show solidarity but it is the fact that we have always been separate and worked for independence. When it did become independent in 1999 it was the start of a new age, there was a great hope. But Russia has occupied Crimea and taken part of the east under the guise of freeing the Russian people - but it is not.

"We can't fight in England but we can show the Ukrainian nation we stand with them. People have been doing it in their own homes and posting pictures if they can't get out. There will be speeches and we are expecting a few people."

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has admitted he is "not optimistic" a Russian incursion into Ukraine can be stopped while, the Prime Minister on Tuesday said Britain was prepared to deploy troops to protect Nato allies in Europe should Russia invade Ukraine, as he warned Vladimir Putin he faced "ferocious" Ukrainian resistance.

Mr Semeniuk added: "It feels good that people are getting involved in this. Other people that do not have anything to do with Ukraine, like my English friends, they ask what is going on and what do I think. Some time ago we had an art exhibition of injured warriors that came from the war in eastern Ukraine, we collected some money and sent it back.

"We try to do our best that we can but it is not always easy and possible."

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