'All of us know somebody who has been killed': Ukrainian journalist reflects on two years of war

Gamal Fahnbulleh and Ann O'Connor spoke to Maria and Jez.

A Ukrainian journalist says the past two years have been "difficult for every Ukrainian" facing "mental health trauma" as the second anniversary of the war approaches.

Maria Romanenko fled Ukraine with her British boyfriend Jez Myers, following the Russian invasion.

She arrived in Manchester on 2 March 2022, after being granted a visa to live with Jez in the UK.

Since then, she has been volunteering across the North West as an interpreter and tour guide for Ukrainian refugees when they first arrive in the UK.

She said: "I'm continuing to help in any way I can, and I think that helps me emotionally.

"I think every Ukrainian will probably say that keeping ourselves busy and helping to make sure that the Ukrainian victory comes faster is what keeps us all going psychologically."

Before she came to the UK, Maria was a broadcast journalist in Ukraine.

But as the war goes on, the fighting continues to bring trauma for refugees and soldiers alike.

Maria said: "All of us know somebody... who has either been killed or injured by Russia. There's been a lot of mental health trauma that I think we're yet to properly address, myself included."

Before being forced to flee her country, she was an english-speaking journalist tasked with delivering reports from Ukraine to the rest of the world.

For Maria's story so far, watch this report from Rob Smith.

Knowing her life would be in danger under a Russian regime, she took on the 40 hour journey to Poland alongside millions of fellow refugees.

Her partner, Jez Myers, took on the long journey with her.

He said: "It's quite a blur, but a very, very, stressful blur. There's still memories of the... 23 hours at the border with no food, no water, you couldn't really sit down or sleep anywhere."

After arriving in the UK, Maria used her English speaking skills to support other Ukrainians in the North West.

She organised walking tours in various locations across the North West, to help refugees learn about their new homes and feel more comfortable.

Maria organises free walking tours of Manchester and Liverpool for Ukrainians new to the UK.

She said: "I'm trying to use my skillset to help others, including doing the free walking tours of Manchester and Liverpool."

Now, Maria is in the process of setting up a charity that will further support Ukrainian refugees.

She said: "It will allow us to do all of these activities but on a more formal basis and apply for grants and things like that."

While Maria and Jez are continuing to do important work in the UK, they worry the ongoing conflict in Gaza could overshadow the war in Ukraine.

Jez said: "The situation in Israel and Gaza is very fast moving, and so that's naturally going to attract a lot more attention than the Ukrainian situation, which has become somewhat of a deadlock.

"There has been significant gains in terms of destroying Russian warships... but it's not enough of a story to influence the media, enough to get those headlines."

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