“We will win”: Manchester’s Ukrainian community marks Independence Day amid ongoing war

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on items purchased through this article, but that does not affect our editorial judgement.

With war still

Manchester’s Ukrainian community came together today to celebrate their country’s Independence Day – the second since the start of Russia’s all-out invasion.

The Ukrainian national holiday, celebrated on 24 August, marks the day in 1991 when Ukraine signed its Declaration of Independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In Manchester, the festivities started with a mass for peace in Ukraine at the Ukrainian Catholic church in Cheetham Hill, which included a requiem mass for those who have died fighting for Ukraine, followed by a family fun day at the nearby cultural centre Dnipro.

The day was filled with Ukrainian tradition, from the cuisine to the embroidered blouses proudly worn by members of the community. The local non-Ukrainian community in Cheetham Hill were also there to show their support and enjoy the last few days of the summer holidays.

Ukrainians in Manchester celebrate their country’s Independence Day at the Dnipro cultural centre in Cheetham Hill on August 24, 2023.Ukrainians in Manchester celebrate their country’s Independence Day at the Dnipro cultural centre in Cheetham Hill on August 24, 2023.
Ukrainians in Manchester celebrate their country’s Independence Day at the Dnipro cultural centre in Cheetham Hill on August 24, 2023.

Father Yevhen Nebesniak, who represents the Bolton parish of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, explained what the event means to the community. He said: We’ve got this cultural centre, it’s a place where we can meet as an ethnic minority, as Ukrainians, as refugees – the local community helps them – and become a close-knit community. Independence Day strengthens our identity as Ukrainians, it heightens our patriotism for Ukraine.

“Hopefully the children will grow up as Ukrainians and this Independence Day will just strengthen their love of Ukraine, the Ukrainian culture.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The highlight of the day was a visit from Sofia, the giant puppet commissioned by the Arts Council that made its debut at the Manchester Day celebrations back in July.

Ukrainians in Manchester celebrate their country’s Independence Day at the Dnipro cultural centre in Cheetham Hill on August 24, 2023. Traditional blouses, called “vyshyvanky”, were on sale. Ukrainians in Manchester celebrate their country’s Independence Day at the Dnipro cultural centre in Cheetham Hill on August 24, 2023. Traditional blouses, called “vyshyvanky”, were on sale.
Ukrainians in Manchester celebrate their country’s Independence Day at the Dnipro cultural centre in Cheetham Hill on August 24, 2023. Traditional blouses, called “vyshyvanky”, were on sale.

Sofia’s puppeteer, Melanie Roberts from the carnival arts group Global Grooves, told Manchester World: “She’s dressed in Ukrainian fabrics and influenced by Ukrainian artwork. It was lovely to be part of the celebrations of freedom. I discovered the artist Maria Prymachenko. That was my inspiration for Sofia -- and making her a young girl, that was symbolic of hope for the nation.

Supporting Ukrainians at home and abroad

Another important aspect of the day was the continuation of the community’s fundraising efforts, which have been non-stop since the start of the war.

Bob Sopel, chairman of the Manchester branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, said: “I know the times are tough in Ukraine, but we wanted to do a family day. We’ve got a lot of refugees, people who were born in Ukraine.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We are supporting the refugees overseas and the refugees here. The army is the key to it all, they’re the ones on the zero line, the frontline, giving up their lives. Right from the beginning, because of the surprise of them actually invading on 24 February, 2022.

“The Manchester community are quite proud because we’ve raised nearly £300,000. I would say that’s double, or treble that on donations – 4x4s, ambulances, about 40-50 trucks going out there with aid.”

Bob Sopel (L) and Father Yevhen Nebesniak (R) pose with Sofia the puppet,  controlled by Melanie Roberts of Global Grooves, on Ukrainian Independence Day at the Dnipro cultural centre in Cheetham Hill.Bob Sopel (L) and Father Yevhen Nebesniak (R) pose with Sofia the puppet,  controlled by Melanie Roberts of Global Grooves, on Ukrainian Independence Day at the Dnipro cultural centre in Cheetham Hill.
Bob Sopel (L) and Father Yevhen Nebesniak (R) pose with Sofia the puppet, controlled by Melanie Roberts of Global Grooves, on Ukrainian Independence Day at the Dnipro cultural centre in Cheetham Hill.

This is a subject close to his heart as he has been supporting relatives in Ukraine fighting on the frontline. One family member had spent 16 days in the trenches and had requested extra uniforms as their house had been bombed while they were away.

He added: “Every time I talk to the mother she is crying her eyes out. She said that five lads were killed in one night and that the bodies were coming the next day.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

While many of the Ukrainians celebrating together today were born and raised in Manchester, descendants of the first Ukrainians to settle in here after the Second World War, there are some who are only here today because of the ongoing war.

In fact the community has grown so much that the cultural centre is running out of space to accommodate it. The Ukrainian Saturday school, for example, had 70-80 students before the war, but now has around 220. The community have had to bring in two portacabins to act as classrooms.

Message to Ukraine

Despite the festivites, the war in Ukraine is never far from people’s minds. Father Yevhen: “Our message to Ukrainians is that you’ve got our support. We are praying for you, we are hoping that you will be able to endure the hardships, whatever they will be.

Ukrainian Independence Day at the cultural centre Dnipro in Cheetham Hill, August 24, 2023.Ukrainian Independence Day at the cultural centre Dnipro in Cheetham Hill, August 24, 2023.
Ukrainian Independence Day at the cultural centre Dnipro in Cheetham Hill, August 24, 2023.

“You give us strength, strengthening our identity as Ukrainians and hopefully when you see, or hear, about what we are doing, supporting you, that you will strengthen yourselves and your efforts to free Ukraine from Russian aggression.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Bob Sopel also wanted to reiterate to the British government that Ukraine needs the UK’s support, now more than ever. He said: “Everybody wants [Ukrainian soldiers] safe. They’re giving up the ultimate. We want the world not to forget. We see it now where it’s becoming the forgotten war. There are different things that come into the news and take it away.

“Give Ukraine the stuff that they need. Just simply, the army need to defend themselves and push back. We’re not invading another country, we want ours back.”

Yuliya Chymera, a member of the local Ukrainian community who was there with her three children, said: “Today is not really a celebration. We came here to support each other and be together as community.”

Her message to the people back home was simple. She said: “We will win. We just have to believe in that,” adding in Ukrainian, “Glory to Ukraine.”

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.