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The following stories are told by Justin Robinson and we are sharing them to support the people of Ukraine and assist the many foreign volunteers helping in Ukraine and abroad – this is at a time when the need for international support is probably the most urgent.

A message from Justin, the author: As their volunteer English teacher and now a friend of many Ukrainians, I am completely amazed by the courage of the Ukrainian mothers and children especially. Theirs is a journey they could not have prepared for and a future both uncertain and still threatening, and yet they find the energy and love to carve out a kind of life here with dignity and determination, adults and children alike. It is truly an honour to know them.

All copyright remains with the author of each story and none should be copied, shared, published or used in anyway without the author's consent.

VOICES FROM THE HOME FRONT: Part One - Justin Robinson


I wish I had never had to write a single word about this war. Or the Russian Federation and its invasion of Ukraine and their slaughter of Ukrainian men, women and children. But the words build up like lava in a volcano, like a victim’s bones finding their way to the surface, or like the horrified voices of ordinary people witnessing such pain. If such words are not spoken, such testimony not shared, these people shall be betrayed. And I think my own head would explode.

We ran improvised English language classes for Ukrainian refugees arriving in the United Kingdom. These were not isolated. All over the country, small coffee morning gatherings, church groups at tea-time, volunteers of all kinds – all began working in homes, village halls, cricket clubs and churches to support the refugees with kind words, some English vocabulary and as imperfect as people are individually, people offered their time and compassion. And many hosts and volunteers offered so much more support than anyone can describe.

It makes a nice picture to think of a kind British woman offering a brave Ukrainian woman a cup of tea with the birds singing outside, a child playing in a corner and an atmosphere of decent hospitality. But that hardly begins to tell the story. I understand that some in Ukraine may think it is easy to be a refugee in the United Kingdom. Yes, it is safer not to be bombed. But everything else requires enormous effort, personal sacrifice, separation from loved ones and supporting children who are effectively “ordered” to learn a new language.

I remember welcoming new people into classes – their faces strained with being dropped off by their host at a class with little or no English, and the other Ukrainians of course had never met them either. Hardly anyone actually wanted to learn English, especially under such conditions. On top of the fatigue of living “on the run” for months, there was the initial embarrassment of meeting people combined with the awkwardness of communication. And I had to find a few right words and control my own emotions. And I remember thinking and occasionally saying that “embarrassment” is a luxury none of us can afford.

We planned some lessons for three months. Then the volunteers agreed to extend for another three months. Then a winter. Now into a second winter. Sponsoring organisations, volunteers of all kinds, host families, children of host families. We all have got used to the fact this war has no end in sight. And although some have changed accommodation, almost everyone has learned some English, found work and even made a few friends.

And the refugee children...although we don’t call them that anymore. Bless the Ukrainian children for their courage and tenacity. And their determination to have fun and laugh even when many of us don’t find this easy. Without an end in sight, up and down the country, the reality is we’re locked up together on the same runaway train.

We held a small event in an Oxfordshire village hall. This is a village where at one time ten per cent were Ukrainians. The event was held in Ukrainian for Ukrainians although there were two British people – myself and a British woman who speaks fluent Russian. At this event we read a few short stories I had written over previous months based on real events and conversations. And while the pain of these “voices” is real, so is their humanity and humour and insight. If there was not much humour that evening, it was my fault. My Ukrainian friends, which is what we all call each other now, are warm, funny and incredibly brave.

And why do British people care? By which I really mean Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English – why do we give a damn about Ukraine and Ukrainians? Well, there are different generations with different views. But although British people are diverse, we all understand Ukraine is a separate nation, that Putin wants to steal it, and if he can’t steal it – he would be almost as happy destroying it rather than watch a democratic and economically successful Ukraine as a neighbour. A successful Ukraine would make him look like the disastrous leader of the Russian people that he actually is.


My mother watches Ukrainians shelter in the train stations just as she remembers how Londoners hid in the Underground during Hitler’s Blitz. My children cannot believe that the Russian Federation would choose to use a chemical weapon to kill people in Salisbury. And I understand that Putin really does not care at all how many Russian lives are lost in this invasion – and he really is just happy to murder Ukrainians if they don’t surrender their country. This is very difficult for British people to understand as there is no rational outcome.


Putin will just keep the war alive like feeding a fire that must not be allowed to go out. When it does, even enough Russians may realise what he has done to their nation and then they will surely kill him. It is still astonishing to me just how weak and ineffectual Russian people are in resisting their monstrous regime. There is a whole generation of politicians who think they will be remembered as patriots when they will simply be remembered as a disaster for the so-called Russian Federation.


No-one will ever trust that country in their life-time. For the Russian Federation, bloodshed, war crimes and economic destruction are the only legacy for the Russian people.


So what about these few stories. I could probably polish them more but I was asked for copies and I appreciate people may want to share them with families and friends.


They are as follows:

You Never See the One With Your Name On It (Ukrainian version translated by Katya K.) - Click to read

This is one woman’s flight from Kyiv. The main point here is how ordinary people had to be incredibly brave as their life changed from peace to war in seconds. And mainly their bravery was driven by one single thought – protecting someone else. And this is so true of the millions of mothers who clambered aboard a train with a child, a bag and little or no food and no idea what would happen to them. Or those manning checkpoints with little idea as to what would happen next.


The Fishermen of Donetsk (Ukrainian version translated by Grigorii M.) - Click to read

This is about how even as refugees people try to do normal things but the war is always in our minds. Even for me as a British person. I am told about murdered people from Donetsk that I never got the chance to meet, about the simple pleasures they enjoyed once as I do now. And perhaps also there is this idea that making one Ukrainian safe and happy for a few moments in this country is still a legitimate way to fight back against the evil being faced daily in Ukraine. And the related point is we keep remembering them – all those fishermen and even fisherwomen who went to war as soldiers, volunteers and just as civilians and paid some terrible price for this.

Ripples of Respect (Ukrainian version translated by Yaroslav K.)  - Click to read

This was based on my other voluntary work – helping British servicemen and women who are damaged, injured or wounded. I work with a group of fishermen and we take them trout fishing as a trip that is organised while they are receiving rehabilitation at a specialised hospital. On this trip, I met a soldier who had been friends with Scott Sibley. He may not have been the first British soldier killed in Ukraine but he was the first recognised British volunteer to die as a soldier for Ukraine’s International Legion. In this piece, I try to show how we both paid our respects to Sibley in a few words. And how it is possible to feel this for a soldier you never personally knew. And that is just one soldier out of so many.

I sometimes feel guilt I am not actually fighting – but I am not soldier. If I have weapons, they  are different to my father’s. My father was a conscript soldier and he fought in Korea as a second lieutenant aged nineteen years old. He dug trenches with his platoon, lived in a dugout and led patrols in no-man’s land. If he were alive today, he might have made me feel guilty for not doing more. I watched him die a couple of months before this war started. And I held him like he once held his own dying soldiers. The circumstances are very different but death is not entirely new to me either.


My Son – An Anglo-Saxon From Ukraine (Ukrainian version translated by Iryna K.)  - Click to read

Here we understand how a mother is watching her child grow up as a refugee in England. In this case the child has already experienced at least part of three school years and had two birthdays in England. She can neither have the support of her husband nor the pleasure of leading a normal family life. And it is almost as if her child is now branching out with his own British life in a way that is hard for her to relate to. And one of the most cruel things is we don’t know when this war will end – it is seemingly endless. And it is now so hard to imagine finding anything left of the life that was left behind, let alone reclaiming it once again.


So we held an event in Ukrainian. Ukrainians read the stories; inevitably, there were some tears. After all, we all know each other and feel each other’s pain. Some Ukrainian children read short passages that introduced their personality and interests which we shall not share now. And I said a few words to remember Chris “Pezz” Perryman as I had written to his family after he was killed – he was fighting with the International Legion and was killed by artillery on 24 October 2023.


My message was addressed to his son who is 11 years old and may find it hard to understand why his dad was killed so far from England. I said I hoped he would one day understand that fundamentally his father supported Ukraine out of compassion for these decent human beings. In the media, he is rather simply portrayed as a warrior although you can see his affection for the dog he had adopted in Ukraine.


I have produced an English and Ukrainian version of this document with the help of friends. I can’t thank enough those who read it – it was an absolute act of courage to read these stories to an audience - about themselves, their friends and loved ones. Nikol, Oleks, Yana, Yaroslav and Antonina. A massive thank you!

Finally, it is important to share the English versions with the British people as much as possible. Yes, there are other tragic events in the world. But the scope, scale and cost of this war is immense and we British need to support Ukraine and keep the pressure on the Russian Federation until it withdraws from Ukrainian territory, agrees a lasting peace, hands over its war criminals and pays proper reparations.

Justin Robinson


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