A Ukrainian refugee who fled his homeland with just a backpack is now promoting his country’s culture at the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool to show “what Ukraine really looks like”.

Veronika Yasynska is originally from Kiev but has been living in Liverpool for more than a year after fleeing Ukraine after the Russian invasion – a journey that spanned six countries and hid in a basement for five days.

The 29-year-old is now the Eurovision Event Project Assistant at Culture Liverpool and part of Discover Ukraine, a section of the Eurovision Village that promotes Ukrainian traditions, food and music.

Authentic dishes such as borscht with smoked pears, chebureki – fried lamb dough – and dumplings with cherries are served in the village, while visitors can also take a pottery master class and learn the Ukrainian art technique of Petrykivka.

Other activities include an interactive exhibition titled See, listen, feel Ukraine by Music Saves UA, a non-profit fundraiser created by the Ukrainian Association of Music Events to provide humanitarian assistance to people in Ukraine to learn more about the history of Ukrainian music.

“It’s really important for me to be here and see this historic event in person,” Ms Yasynska told the PA news agency.

“I think it helps to describe the resistance of our Ukrainian nation – despite the full-scale invasion that is taking place in our country… [we want] to share our love and spirit of Ukrainian bravery.”

Mrs Yasynska (front left) at a demonstration in support of Ukraine (Jamie Thursfield)

Mrs Yasynska (front left) at a demonstration in support of Ukraine (Jamie Thursfield)

Ms Yasynska believes Eurovision can offer Ukrainians “an opportunity to be heard”.

“We can clarify all the details of our history, explain the fabric of decolonization and provide an understanding that we are always an independent sovereign state,” she said.

“I think Eurovision was a trampoline to raise a lot of questions and give a better understanding of what Ukraine actually looks like.”

Ms Yasynska said she works with a production team that will deliver commissioned projects.

“So it’s going to be two weeks of events and collaborations with Ukrainian artists before the actual song contest,” she added.

She said she’s “proud” to be able to share her background and culture, and finds heartwarming moments with peers connecting over Ukrainian music.

“I can be proud of our country because we have a really rich cultural background and heritage,” stated Ms. Yasynska.

“I cannot describe how interesting it is to see how many people are discovering Ukraine through these circumstances and working with Ukrainian artists, which is absolutely amazing.

“If you can share your headphones with a colleague and we listen to Ukrainian music, it’s really surreal.”

Being part of this year’s Eurovision is ‘surreal’ for Ms Yasynska, who has been an avid fan of the singing competition since 2004 when Ukrainian contestant Ruslana won the competition.

“Eurovision has been a big part of life since 2004 when Ruslana won Eurovision,” she said.

“Since that time I’ve been a fan of the competition and have been following the updates.

“I will definitely cheer for and support my country.”

Ms Yasynska was initially concerned that Britain, as the host of Eurovision, could no longer highlight Ukrainian culture, but hopes that the Discover Ukraine project “will advance our Ukrainian culture”.

“It was kind of like ‘how will it be?’ maybe people don’t understand us or something [Eurovision] could make the UK stand out more, but I want to take things forward with our Ukrainian culture,” she explained.

“But I am sure that everything will work perfectly.”

Ms Yasynska fled Ukraine with only a backpack, limited belongings, her laptop and camera, and was forced to camp in basements before making the journey to Liverpool.

“I stayed with my family in Kiev and hid in a basement with five other families before moving to south-eastern Ukraine, where I volunteered for a while,” she said.

“My family and I decided to separate, so I continued traveling with my mother and without my father to Poland, through Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Warsaw, and after that we moved closer to Germany where we found apartments for rent.

“During this time my friend informed me that he had been living in Liverpool for some time and offered me to come to the UK.”

Mrs Yasynska (second from right) celebrates Ukrainian Independence Day in Liverpool (Nadia Koles)

Mrs Yasynska (second from right) celebrates Ukrainian Independence Day in Liverpool (Nadia Koles)

She initially turned down her friend’s offer, believing that the war against Ukraine would last no more than a few weeks.

Realizing that Poland was “overwhelmed by displaced and resettled people from Ukraine”, she felt the need to move to a safer place with her mother, despite the “scary” prospect.

“I agreed [to the move]although it wasn’t something I really wanted to do as I didn’t have a plan or strategy for staying in the UK,” she said.

“I traveled with a backpack, my laptop and my camera… and traveled by train.

“It was really scary moving somewhere abroad.”

Though discouraged by the move, she hopes her work can “help my country.”

“I had no expectations of Liverpool – I just wanted to find a safe place, get a job straight away, start working and the biggest thing for me is to help my country and it doesn’t matter what it will be,” she said .

“I just wanted to find something that would help the army or the displaced.”

She is grateful for the support she received while in the UK.

“I want to thank everyone who has supported Ukraine – every single one who has already helped is part of our great victory,” she said.

“I want to encourage people to stay [supporting] because we really need to end this war.”


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