Wokingham Borough Council and its partners are translating words into action in support of Ukrainian people suffering as a result of their nation's invasion by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Led by the borough’s mayor Cllr Keith Baker MBE, councillors unanimously voiced their support for Ukraine and a commitment to welcoming its refugees when they met as a full council last week.
Cllr Baker invited Mike Polleck, a former chairman of the Reading Ukrainian Community Centre, to address the meeting while Fr Stan Gibzinski, a Catholic priest for the parish of Our Lady of Peace & Blessed Dominic Barberi in Earley, led a minute’s silence.
Mr Polleck thanked the council for its support, which included allowing the use of one of its storage facilities within the borough when the centre was being overwhelmed with donations for Ukraine. This offered its volunteers a space to package and send them off.
United in condemnation and ready to help
After the meeting, Cllr Baker said: “It was important that all four groups within the council should speak with one voice condemning this violation of a totally independent nation. The horrors being perpetrated on men, women and children – especially the children – have not been seen in Europe since the Second World War.
“Speeches from councillors were varied and covered a variety of topics but they all had a common theme which was: we abhor this unnecessary war, we grieve over so much loss of innocent life, especially children, and we stand united with the Ukrainian people as they fight Putin and his armies for the freedom that an independent country deserves.”
The council is translating its moral support into action as hosts across the borough prepare to welcome significant numbers of refugees from Ukraine. The council and voluntary sector is ready to support them with financial and practical help and advice.
Details are still emerging amid such a difficult and rapidly-changing situation but the council is already undertaking or preparing the following measures:
- Providing an emergency £200 payment, which will help cover essentials, to each refugee arriving from Ukraine under the Government's Homes for Ukraine scheme
- Assigning a support worker to all hosts and refugees, who will act as their advocate and advisor on issues ranging from school places and childcare to benefits and finding work
- Helping the voluntary and community sector to coordinate its support for refugees and hosts
- Signposting to health services and helping refugees register with GPs and other professionals
- Providing an information and welcome pack for refugees with the basic information they may need to settle into the community
- Identifying trauma counselling and other mental health support that may be needed
- Administering the Government's £350 ‘thank you’ payment to eligible hosts, subject to more detail being provided
- Matching children arriving with the best available school places or other education and helping younger children to find childcare or nursery places
Preparing a warm welcome
John Halsall, leader of the council (Conservative), said: “We don’t know how many refugees will come to the borough or how long they will stay, but we know many local people have registered to be hosts - and quite a few have already been contacted and have Ukrainians on their way to join them.
“The council and our voluntary sector partners are working closely together to make sure we are ready to support those arriving and those who are so generously taking them in.”
Cllr Clive Jones, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group, said: “We have to offer a safe place for those fleeing this conflict, which is no fault of the Ukrainian people or their government. We must warmly welcome them and give them as much assistance as possible.
“I'm very proud of the response of Wokingham residents to the various appeals to offer help to Ukraine and its people. It shows once again that we are a kind, caring and compassionate country.”
Cllr Rachel Burgess, leader of the council’s Labour group, said: “At this horrendous time, our solidarity lies with the Ukrainian people. Wokingham borough residents are ready to offer refugees sanctuary and the public response has been fantastic.
“I hope the government will do more to enable refugees to enter the UK quickly and easily, as they flee Putin’s horrific war. We all stand united in our support for democracy over dictatorship and in our solidarity with Ukrainians - and, I hope, this solidarity extends to all refugees fleeing conflict or persecution. “
Cllr Jim Frewin, leader of the council’s Independent group, said: “I could not be more proud of this council, its officers, members, leaders and our Wokingham community, for standing up to support the Ukrainian people - a people who are not only fighting so bravely for their own freedom, but are fighting for our freedom as well. We should not forget that.
“We thank them and salute them. May God bless and protect all of those involved in this unnecessary and unwanted conflict. Thank you, Ukraine!”
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