War in Ukraine: Ripon man's race to escape conflict that has shocked the world
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In the few short but momentous days since President Putin invaded his neighbour, nearly 700,00 civilians have fled Ukraine, with the number set to increase to up to four million as the fighting intensifies across the country.
These remain terrifying times for the people of Ukraine as Russian troops continue their march into the major cities of Kharkiv and Kyiv - the seventh-most populous city in Europe.
For one former Ripon resident who recently managed to flee from the capital city, the idea of British support for refugees is a very personal one.
After crossing the country’s border to take refuge in Slovakia, he is now asking residents across the Harrogate district for urgent help and support as he continues his journey to safety.
Lewis Edwards, 33, and his partner Tanya Bogdanovska, 30, have been volunteering with Point Camp, a children’s summer camp, in Ukraine for seven years but for the past year, has been working in a school in the capital city teaching English.
Last week, their normal lives were turned upside down when they were woken in the early hours of the morning by air raid sirens.
After two frightening days as they hid from the explosions, they were informed of just how close the Russian forces were to their shelter.
They made the difficult and daring decision to flee the country and are now living a life as refugees.
Since their escape, they have covered more than 500km to get to the border, trying to avoid any reported sights of the conflict.
Whilst on their travels, Lewis and Tanya agreed that they were going to help others and set up a place for refugees to gather once they had crossed the border - offering food, shelter, medical attention and comfort to those who are in need of help.
Speaking from Slovakia, Lewis said: “Our friends, a group made up of Ukrainians and foreigners, are now working together to try and do what we can to help others.
“We are a collective of friends who work together at Point Camp, teachers from Kyiv, our friends, partners, and a wider network of friends from all over Europe.
“We want to do what we can to help, including providing essential services such as food, drink, clothing, sanitary products, nappies, sim cards - anything people may need.
“It is also a place to rest with a welcoming face and provides a distraction for worried children and parents, and a place to be in private to contact loved ones.”
Their valiant efforts so far have ensured that 17 people have found accommodation and their plan is to set up for a lot more in the coming weeks.
Back home in Ripon, Lewis’s family have launched a Go Fund Me fundraising page which aims to raise an initial £20,000 to get their venture up and running.
Lewis added: “There is a lot to be done and more we could do and we need your help.
“Your contacts, donations and your help are needed to pressure all Governments to end this tragedy that we are witnessing in our home, in our families and in front of our eyes.”
Emily Morrison, Lewis’ cousin, is urging the Harrogate community to come together and provide help and support for those who are suffering in Ukraine.
She said: “Lewis has first hand witnessed attacks from the Russians and has been trying to flee to safety.
“His story has been one of the most terrifying my family have ever encountered in our lifetime and we have irregular updates and intermittent contact with him, intensifying the fear that we are all feeling.
“We are all sat watching this chaos unfold, enduring reports of middle aged men being shot down as they try to defend their country and babies that are being born in bomb shelters.
“The bravery of the army and the civilians has been second to none.”
While refugees continue to stream across the border to neighbouring countries in the west, including Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova, back in Britain MPs in the district including Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones and Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith have been pressing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to do more to help.
Mr Smith even went as far as to call on the Government to ‘rip up the usual bureaucracy’ and offer a ‘welcoming and warm hearted commitment of sanctuary’ to refugees from Ukraine.
At the weekend, the Ripon MP received more than 39,00 likes for an impassioned tweet with the message: “It’s really important that the United Kingdom makes an immediate open, welcoming & warm hearted commitment of sanctuary to those who wish to leave Ukraine.
"Rip up the usual bureaucracy & let’s just say they are welcome & we will make it as easy as possible to be here.”
Wednesday of this week saw MPs in the House of Commons give a rare standing ovation to Ukraine ambassador Vadym Prystaiko.
Despite the support and the sanctions, some are arguing Britain must still do more - with Wetherby MP Alec Shelbrooke appealing to Boris Johnson to stop the slaughter in Ukraine.
A nation waits to see what action can now be taken as the threat and carrying out of sanctions seems to have done little to halt the prospect of Russia taking control.
To make a donation towards Lewis’ refugee camp, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-for-ukrainian-shelter/donate