Salford councillor Tanya Burch had to hold back tears as she meets with her Ukrainian family taking refuge in Poland, while aiding the efforts of her nephew in Kyiv.
In an interview with Melanie Cionco she speaks about the pain of seeing her home, the place of her identity and family, suffering against the Russian tyranny and how it has created two parallel worlds: where she has to be strong for her family while in pain for her people.
Tanya Burch, councillor for Ordsall ward, born and raised in Lviv, moved to the United Kingdom 25 years ago, not having seen her family since the Covid pandemic began. After the news of the invasion in late February and the visa scheme in early March, she took a flight to her family’s refuge in Poland. She said: “When I first saw them, what can I say, it was my sister and her two grandkids, beautiful children.
“My nephew warned me saying kind of I’ve only got a very good relationship. He was saying Tanya, do not cry in front of children, we’re trying to protect them, so I said ‘yes sir’.
“I didn’t have to think about it, I was going to see them and give them hugs, just to be with them, regardless of whether they had visas or not.”
Last week, the councillor flew to Poland with her daughter and slept in a hotel room where her now refugee family stayed, she said: “I was doing my very best and every time I go into our room, I would give them hugs and kisses then like a few minutes later, I come back and I give them hugs and kisses, I just could not have enough of my family”
The Ukraine Family Scheme visa went live on March 5th, Tanya commenting that she immediately applied for the visas and made her plans to go to Poland. However, the demand has proven to take a toll on families still waiting to reunite in the United Kingdom, Tanya’s family affected by this and unable to yet leave Poland.
Councillor Burch said: “The intention was to go and hopefully by the time I get there they would have visa (sic).
“So, I flew out on Monday and there was no visa, there was no visa Tuesday either, we applied on the 5th of March and they still have not got their visa.”
However, even with no visas and Tanya having to return to the United Kingdom to continue her duties, her family is still safe, and she is nothing but grateful that most of her family is now free from any shelling or warfare.
Tanya grew up in Soviet Union-controlled Ukraine, living through the tyranny and propaganda of Russia, following their culture and language. There was no freedom for anyone or anything, and parents and grandparents were killed or taken away from their families. It was when she reached the age of 21 that Ukraine claimed its independence.
Tanya says she wants to do anything to help her home country: “I wanted to go to Lviv and my parents said ‘We forbid you, don’t you dare, you will be better and more useful in Britain doing some fundraising and just keeping that awareness’.”
Tanya however, still wanting to directly help, contacted her nephew in Kyiv who ran a successful business of food, producing and selling goods internationally. He is currently helping to aid the residents, volunteers, soldiers, and victims of shelling in the capital.
She said: “He could have flown anywhere in the world with his wife and child.
“He could have been in Bali by now on the beach, but he decided to stay there, and he’s still there today delivering food to residents.
“So, I said to him, ‘Tell me what is it that you need? What can we do?’ So, he told ‘we need grains, we’re going low on grains.’”
Tanya’s nephew took his wife and child to be evacuated before him, as he sees his help still needed in the city. He is using the fashion shop, owned by his wife, to store and deliver the food for residents.
The councillor tells that after some financial help from friends in the UK and some Polish contacts, she was able to give funds to trustees from Poland who proceeded to buy and deliver grains, like bulgur wheat, buckwheat, and rice to the Ukrainian border of Poland.
She said: “So he had some members of his team go together, and they got these grains into Ukraine and forwarded them to Kyiv which was amazing.
“I’ve got the photographs of grandmas you know, sitting in Kyiv, on a bench smiling holding bags of buckwheat and
you just remember: it doesn’t take all these days and months and weeks of bureaucracy just to get going, just to help people, and I’m a nobody really in the grand scheme of things.”
In the UK, Tanya in collaboration with mayor Paul Dennett and other councillors, plan to bring forward further awareness and acceptance for refugees, specially women who can risk being victims of human trafficking and abuse. There are also hopes to bring better funding per refugee, so checks are faster, easier and more effective. Moreover, there are plans that more checks will be in place for families hosting refugees.
If anything is certain, is that there will be changes in every aspect of Salford as a city in order to accept and bring opportunities to Ukrainian refugees.
Tanya said: “We have to be prepared to help in any way whether; it’s through the council, or personally.
“Because, the ask and the need is tremendous, all these people will need counselling, they will need so much love and support and rehabilitation in emotional mental health issues, but we believe we can overcome this.
“We believe that it is doable.
“The whole spirit of the Ukrainian community internationally and in Ukraine is absolutely tremendous, there is so much humour, believe it or not, there is so much positivity.
“It’s absolutely mind blowing how that is even possible, but they’re very conscious that we need to stay positive, optimistic, believing in victory, supporting each other and pray for each other.”