How the people's army are fighting Putin's Russia from Preston, Lancashire

As Putin’s Russian forces deploy their might against Ukraine a people's army is fighting back here in the UK.

By Nicola Adam
Thursday, 10th March 2022, 8:01 pm

In the open plan kitchen of a rural stone barn conversion a few miles outside Preston, Lancashire, a phone is ringing with news of an anticipated attack on a Ukrainian town that night.

It's just one of many calls, messages and texts that evening to their home that evening as the Antonyuk family’s extensive Ukrainian, Polish and British friend networks work tirelessly to update, to assist and desperately seek help for those fighting Putin's army as he mercilessly attacks the country in which they were born.

Business owners and company directors Ostap, 53, Oryslava, 45, and their children Markiyan, 25, and Yaryna, 21, are all now British but also fiercely Ukrainian, the cut glass private-school educated voices of the articulate children at odds with their parents' more pronounced accents.

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IRPIN, UKRAINE - MARCH 07: Residents of Irpin flee heavy fighting via a destroyed bridge as Russian forces entered the city on March 07, 2022 in Irpin, Ukraine. Yesterday, four civilians were killed by mortar fire along the road leading from Irpin to Kyiv, which has been a key evacuation route for people fleeing Russian forces advancing from the north. Today, Ukraine rejected as "unacceptable" a Russian proposal for a humanitarian corridor that leads from Kyiv to Belarus, a Russian ally that was a staging ground for the invasion. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

"We are British and yet we are also Ukrainian,” 53-year-old Ostap explains with pride for both his countries.

Make no mistake, this is just a small Lancashire corner of an amassing people’s army of multiple nationalities and locations away from Ukraine itself.

A UK army, not wielding weapons, but instead phones, vehicles, donations, intelligence and an abundance of determined kindness and loyalty.

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MEDYKA, POLAND - MARCH 07: People, mostly women and children, who had just arrived from war-torn Ukraine wait for buses on a freezing day at the Medyka border crossing on March 07, 2022 in Medyka, Poland. Over one million people have arrived from Ukraine since the Russian invasion of February 24, and while many are now living with relatives who live and work in Poland, others are journeying onward to other countries in Europe. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

It's mission is to help those ordinary people remaining in Ukraine and fighting the soldiers armed with guns, tanks and bombs in little more than day clothes and soft shoes they wear every day.

The situation with injuries is so bad they desperately need military-style first aid equipment.

In some cases, explains Oryslava, string is being used as tourniquets to tackle injuries causes by bombs and bullets as ordinary people on the ground fight for their lives.

Ostap, originally from Rivne in Western Ukraine, came to the UK 21 years ago from a country rife with corruption to ensure his children had a proper education.

LVIV, UKRAINE - MARCH 07: Members of the public are given weapons training at the Solonka administration building on March 07, 2022 in Lviv, Ukraine. Ukrainians from the eastern and central parts of the country have increasingly fled to western cities, that have so far been considered safer, as Russian forces advance toward Kyiv from three sides. Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine last week, prompting widespread condemnation from European countries and sanctions on Russia. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The former history teacher and PhD student did not then speak a word of English.

Now he talks, in impassioned English and with tears in his eyes, of the people of Ukraine using intelligence and tricks to weed out the spies, some of whom have been embedded for years. Then there are the huge efforts to remove road signs or any identifying features to confuse and slow Russian troops.

But for them this is not a war happening on television but in a country where their families live. Both Ostap's parents and Orsylava's mother have no intention of going anywhere; they are stoic in the face of war.

"My parents never thought to move," explained Ostap.

"They are in the safest place, they are self-sufficient and it’s their home. In a village it's a slightly different type of living, they keep animals, and have a little piece of land to grow their fruit so quite independent of supermarkets while there are shortages in the cities."

Meanwhile Oryslava's mum lives alone. "She’s one of five, my dad is one of four," she says. " I have lots of cousins with lots of children, and a big family. But I'm the only one, my dad passed away a few years ago and mum - 70 this year- is still there so this is worrying. She's in Lviv which is next to the Polish border and she lives on her own but she says she's a bit too old to come over and change her life significantly. She'd miss her friends and people and because of language barriers she can't speak, so she decided not to come, even now when we have the possibility to get her here."

Until war broke out they were enjoying life, they were just a month back from an extended holiday with family and friends in Ukraine, in the weeks before Putin made his move.

It was devastating, if not unexpected.

"It's new for the world but in Ukraine but we knew one day it was going to happen as we have been under the shadow of Russia for so many years," says Ostap.

"Even after we became independent and had a Ukrainian president we understood that the KGB, which is based in Moscow, still had control. You cannot change that system. Russia always has massive power in our country."

And he explained it was in the Ukrainians' psychology to stand up to bullies.

"Our parents and our relatives, however old or young, whatever happens we will fight," he explained. "We will stand and we will fight! There's lots of history if you look backwards, we always fight, Mentally or psychologically we knew this would happen , we are prepared."

Even 21-year-old Stonyhurst College-educated Yaryna, just a baby when she arrived on UK shores, supports this view.

Her friends, she says, are surprised by her internalised patriotic determination and the strength of the country where she was born.

"My friends think it's so impressive we are not backing down. But we have always struggled for independence so the patriotism we have for Ukraine, it's instilled in our mentality.

"It's given us the drive to not give up; the people of Ukraine would genuinely rather lose their lives than become part of Russia again.

"In that sense, a lot of my friends are shocked to see the president on the frontline himself - that demonstrates the kind of patriotism we have."

Many of the Antonyuks' family members and friends have become displaced in the face of war.

Ostap's sister and family, who lived next to an army base located halfway between Kiev and Lviv and a definite target - moved to his parents' home in a rural village near the Polish border the day war broke out.

They are safe for now but another close family member was not so lucky, fleeing to Poland with her three very young children in tow and few possessions, she crossed over at a location hours away from a planned meeting point.

Immediately the Antonyuk family swung into action. Oryslava's extensive Polish network, gathered from years of owning and managing Eastern European shops in Lancashire and Manchester, enabled her to locate someone to take in the mum-of-three in that part of Poland. She is now a statistic; one of a reported 10 million Ukrainians displaced by conflict, but safe.

The family have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the people in their now-home Britain, if underwhelmed by the inaction of the Government itself.

Yaryna says: "We understand why troops are not being sent in, everyone is concerned about a third world war but even just shutting off the sky - that will allow us to stay alive and keep fighting.

"It would already be a lot more helpful than financial and economic sanctions. People are dying now.”

In Manchester alone where the family are members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, they have amassed 45 pallets of donations, largely clothes and items collected by the Polish community - but now they need some sort of warehouse to house them in the city.

But critically they need first aid equipment, preferably of military quality, from tourniquets, gauzes, bandages and more for the injured within the Ukrainian community.

HOW TO HELP

If you can donate money toward the purchase of medical supplies and equipment please donate via the following account:

Account name: Ukrainian Catholic Church, Oldham

Sort code 16 0016

Account number 10121396

Charity number is 240088

Ref: Aid Ukraine 22

If you are an individual or business who can help with large supplies of medical aid, or can help with storage and logistics, please email, in first instance, [email protected]