'We couldn't move': Preston Polish couple's home inundated with donations to help Ukrainian refugees on the Poland-Ukraine border

A Polish couple who moved to Preston more than 15 years ago say they were left without a scrap of space in their own home after a social media appeal they made on behalf of Ukrainian refugees sparked a huge response.

Wednesday, 2nd March 2022, 7:29 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 11:38 am

Natalia and Tomasz Soloducha spearheaded what they thought would be a modest aid effort from their house in Ribbleton after seeing pictures of Ukrainians fleeing the fighting that broke out last week.

However, within 48 hours, the deluge of donations they received had to be moved to a local church – and the outpouring of concern from across Central Lancashire shows no sign of slowing.

The couple have now been offered the support of the Polish embassy in Manchester, which has agreed to transport the aid parcels to the Ukrainian border where they are so badly needed.

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The mass of donations to be sent from Preston to Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Poland - now being stored in a church presbytery after they overwhelmed a Preston couple's home

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Natalia said that the images emerging from her home country – which has welcomed the majority of the estimated half a million refugees who have sought sanctuary in other nations since the war began – left her and her husband with “no choice” but to do something.

“We can’t do the fighting, so we must help like this. Poland is really cold at the moment – it was minus 12 one night this week.

“We can’t just watch the news and all the suffering in Ukraine – kiddies are dying, too, and I just cry when I see [what is happening].

Tomasz Soloducha sorting donations he and his wife have helped collect for Ukrainian refugees in Poland

“People have brought everything – food, clothes and even food for pets. They are amazing – and it’s not only Polish people, but British people as well,” said Natalia, who was working her usual long weekend shifts as a domestic assistant at the Royal Preston Hospital while trying to co-ordinate the items that were initially being brought to her home.

Tomasz said that his wife’s “big heart” meant that the couple – who have two daughters – were well-versed in gathering and distributing donations, having launched several similar appeals for charities in both Preston and Poland in recent years. But he says that they were nevertheless shocked by the generosity that the war in Ukraine has generated.

“After two days, I couldn’t move at home – I had to sit on [the corner] of a table,” laughs Tomasz, who explained why the refugees’ plight was so close to their hearts.

“Poland and Ukraine share the same history – they helped us during the Second World War, when we were fighting side-by-side together.

Natalia Soloducha says people have donated a whole range of goods - even pet food

“If you stop and think about what’s happening, I can plan [luxuries] like holidays. People in Ukraine can’t plan anything – they are thinking about whether they can even survive until tomorrow, it’s crazy.

“Our main priority is that we have to make sure that those children and women [entering Poland] are looked after properly and that Ukrainian soldiers, fathers and brothers can concentrate on defending their country.

“We know they don’t only fight for their country, they fight for the whole of Europe,” added Tomasz, who works at a distribution centre in Chorley.

Donations to the couple’s appeal have flooded in from far beyond Preston. Magdalena Matuszewska, another member of the Polish community in the city, works at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and has collected items from her colleagues.

Many hands make light work as volunteers in Preston prepare aid parcels to be dispatched to Poland for Ukrainian refugees

“It’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening at the Polish border. We just need to pray that this evil ends,” she said.

Staff at the Lostock Hall Medical Centre have been running their own appeal and are now sending their donations to Poland via Tomasz and Natalia.

Practice manager David Pearson said that the waiting room of the surgery – whose lead GP, Dr. Ewa Craven, trained in Poland – had been “full to the ceiling”.

“People in Lancashire are connecting with families who are miles away – and our hearts go out to them.

"I’ve been across the border between Poland and Ukraine and it’s difficult to cross at the best of times, because it is an external border of the EU. Some [of the refugees] have been waiting there for 20 hours - it’s unimaginable,” David added.

A van-load of aid boxes has already been dispatched from Ribbleton to the Polish embassy in Manchester, with another set to leave later this week.

“I love Preston – and I know that there are lots of amazing people living here and [their response] shows it,” said Natalia, who intended to stay just a year in the city when she and Tomasz arrived in 2006 with plans to save for their wedding.

Tomasz added: People have left behind their whole life – their homes and families – [taking with them] only a single suitcase. We feel like we need to help them with new temporary, accommodation, but our Polish government will [provide that]. But we can help them right now with food, clothes and first aid.

"We are so very grateful for the massive support of our social media friends and our community. If anyone wants to contribute, they are more then welcome to contact us through our social media.”

The couple say that they are open to receiving more donations until at least Saturday, when they will assess whether to continue or pause their appeal.

Details of how to donate can be found here.

Either way, Natalia says that this will not be their last aid effort for the people of Ukraine.

“When Ukraine wins – and of course they will win – we will be doing collections for food, clothes and medication, because the people will be very poor and will need everything.”