One year on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: community reporters in the UK highlight how their work has been affected by the conflict

We take a look at how community reporters have been building bonds and reporting on refugees’ unique stories over the past year.

Examples of headlines from stories by community news reporters

Today marks one year since Russia invaded Ukraine, causing extreme civilian harm and leaving thousands of Ukrainian refugees seeking shelter around the world.

With refugees having joined communities across the UK, we take a look at how community reporters have been building bonds and reporting on refugees’ unique stories over the past year.

The journalists, hired under the banner of the Community News Project, have reported on the exceptional community support for refugees in their areas, shining a light on host families’ experiences, local fundraisers and events.

One such community effort was by Northumberland man Nick Redmayne, who set out to raise £8,000 to donate a fire engine to Ukraine – a story covered by Northumberland Gazette community reporter Charlie Watson.

Charlie said: “I originally came across the fundraiser through social media, as straight away the community got behind it.

“I wanted to shine a light on the man going to so much effort for such a great cause. It made an incredible story and showed that Ukraine is still in need of help. By writing the story I hoped that I could boost the fundraiser and also to show that normal people can help in small ways, even if it is just through a small donation.”

Hayley Lovely

Similarly, local fundraisers were also covered by Hayley Lovely, a community reporter for the Sunderland Echo and Shields Gazette. She was contacted by the mum of an 11-year-old schoolboy, who set up a sweet stall outside his home and made more than £200 to donate to the Ukraine crisis.

Hayley said: “I think the story shows that no matter how old you are or where you are in the world there are people worse off than you and all it takes is small gesture like this to show you care for those living in the most harrowing conditions. It restores your faith in humanity and really proves how one community can pull together to help another.”

Melissa Paulden

Thanks to the community connections she made via Facebook groups, reporter Melissa Paulden, who works for Baylis Media, was able to highlight a story about Ukrainian sisters who had fled Ukraine and wanted to thank the people of Twyford for their kindness.

Other stories covered by Melissa included how hosts were preparing for their Ukrainian family to arrive and how one woman received a reply from a message she left on a doll bound for Ukraine.

Melissa, who started her role in April last year, said: “Twyford is a really close-knit community, with a real ‘can do’ spirit, which is so inspiring.

“I have been following the villagers’ stories of welcoming families from Ukraine since I took the role on.

“I joined a couple of Facebook groups where people were chatting about gathering items to make their guests’ arrival as welcoming and as seamless as possible. I reached out to host families that way and was introduced to people from Ukraine either directly or over email.

“As a human being you cannot fail to be touched by the refugees’ plight. It’s so hard to believe this is happening and all we can do is raise awareness, help where we can and hope that things change and peace can be restored.”

Catrin Jones

For Catrin Jones, community reporter for St Helens Star covering Newton-le-Willows, the focus has been on the wholesome stories of support to come from her patch, including the set-up of a local community hub to offer refugees a space to meet up.

She said: “Locals have welcomed families into their homes and community groups have also been set up by residents to offer a safe space for refugees to meet with each other and enjoy wholesome activities.

“Reporting on this community effort has been great, and to see the amount of support given to families in need has been touching.

Sophie Gibbons

“I spotted a social media post from a woman who was hosting for a Ukrainian family and was looking for someone to host for the refugee’s friend, so I got in touch with her to hear more about her experience of hosting and how it’s been for the family.

“Following this article being published, I was approached by a member of the community group who appreciated my coverage and wanted to promote the group for people to be aware of it. ”

Not only have community reporters been highlighting stories of support, they have spoken to refugees themselves to reveal their plight and how they’re settling into life in the UK.

Sophie Gibbons, community reporter for the Basingstoke Gazette and Andover Advertiser, was able to tell the story of Ukrainian refugee Rymma Khoroshko, who had opened up her own beauty salon in Andover town centre.

Sophie said it was “amazing” to speak to Rymma and tell her story, adding: “She has really immersed herself within the community and maintains working hard every day. We will continue to stay in touch as her business continues to expand, I am so happy for her.”

Megan Howe

Megan Howe, 23, community reporter for the Shropshire Star, has built up connections with Ukrainian refugees in her patch after host families put her in touch.

She said: “I established a really good connection with Ukrainian refugee Hanna Zarytska in Market Drayton and I have done a couple of stories on her. She has been able to really highlight what it is like to be a refugee and what the situation was like over in Ukraine. Some of the stories are harrowing but it’s important to highlight what’s going on.”

Stories Megan has covered about Hanna, who was a radio presenter in Ukraine, include how Hanna landed a spot to present her own show on a local radio station and her fears after six-month stays in the UK came to an end.

Megan added: “I saw that there were fears of what will happen to Ukrainian refugees after they were no longer hosted as the scheme was coming to an end. I knew it wasn’t just an issue in Shropshire but I wanted to look at the impact locally.”

Community reporters have also attended events held specifically to bring Ukrainian refugees together and celebrate their culture.

Cristiano Magaglio

Cristiano Magaglio, 24, community reporter for the Dorset Echo, attended a gathering of refugees at a church centre in Weymouth to celebrate their first Christmas in England.

He said: “I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to go down and meet the Ukrainians in person.

“It went very well – there was traditional music and food. It was a fairly normal community event and then you realise why they are there, because their relatives are fighting. That came across when I spoke to them.

“A few people I spoke to got a little emotional recounting tales from their homeland. It’s a real community that has popped up overnight and they are keen to keep that community going despite being so far away from home.”

Cristiano said he was lucky to have an incredible ‘Weymouth for Ukraine’ support group on Facebook, which is a go-to place for stories on fundraisers and events.

Owen Younger

Owen Younger, community reporter for ChronicleLive, also attended a Christmas celebration organised for Ukrainian refugees – a traditional St Nicholas Day event held at Newcastle Civic Centre.

Having started his role in October, he had only been working as a community reporter for a couple of months when he headed down to cover the event.

The 22-year-old, from Gateshead, said: “I personally thought it was very interesting to see the differences between the UK Christmas celebration and what was organised for the Ukrainian families. It was a really good turn-out.

“There were a lot of mothers with their children, because their partners were still in Ukraine. I was speaking to them about having to leave their loved ones. It was interesting to speak to them about their experiences.

“I felt proud to be part of the coverage and making sure their stories are told.”

Will Gore, head of partnerships and projects at the NCTJ said: “We all know that global events have local impacts, and it is brilliant that reporters in roles created by the Community News Project have been able to shine a line on how the conflict in Ukraine has affected cities, towns and villages in the UK.

“It’s also important that they have been able to tell the stories of those forced to flee from Russia’s invasion, and to follow their journeys as refugees. We’re very proud to see the community reporters using their journalistic skills to such excellent effect.”

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