By Alec McQuarrie
For immigration advisor Mariia Lata, doing nothing was not an option when war broke out in Ukraine and now her tenacity and efforts have been recognised nationally.
Lata arrived in the UK three years ago and so she jumped at the opportunity to help close to 1,000 Ukrainian refugees settle in this country.
Lata has been recognised for her unwavering dedication to supporting refugees to become part of The National Lottery’s campaign, championing the stories of individuals and projects who have achieved incredible things for their communities and peers in supporting refugees, with the help of National Lottery players, who raise £30 million for good causes every week.
Through Yellow Scarf’s Emergency Support Project in Evesham, Worcestershire, Lata started by helping her own family stay safe in the west of Ukraine, but it soon spiralled to include anyone and everyone.
To celebrate her incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a digital piece of art that immortalises Lata’s story.
“I started by helping friends and family but then it moved on as everyone has relatives,” said Lata. “Then friends were sharing phone numbers and at some point, it was so much that I was working up to 16 hours a day, just sitting on the phone.
“You don’t even remember the names, but you know the questions you’re asking. You just keep going and going and then it’s 3am and you’re like oh my god.”
Lata’s sisters started volunteering on the Ukraine border, while her brothers decided they had little choice but to stay, even if their relatives are worried for their safety.
“The boys cannot leave Ukraine. They’re just taking it as a man. If we need to fight, we will fight and if we will die then there’s nothing you can do,” said Lata. “That was a critical moment for so many people and then you realise you can do at least something.
“Obviously, a lot of people lost their jobs but then again, doing nothing is not the answer. Everyone was just asking the question, what can I do?” Lata supported countless vulnerable Ukrainians with an endless list of services including job advice, resettlement information, translation assistance and even buying furniture.
And it was National Lottery funding that allowed her to dedicate every hour of the day to those in need.
“The funding was brilliant because in that moment I could do the job full-time and without it we wouldn’t have been able to help so many people. It was wonderful,” said Lata.
“The best part of my job is when you see a happy family on the street here and you know that you helped a little for that to happen.
“Because some families went through literal hell, seeing their family members dying next to them.
“Just seeing them here, happy and having a normal life is the best reward you can have.”
Lata is worried and uncertain about the future for her family, her homeland, and Ukrainians everywhere, hoping against hope that a resolution can be found to stop the senseless killing.
She said: “I would like people to stop dying. Buildings can be rebuilt, shops can be restored, cars can be bought, but you will never be able to bring back lives which were lost.
“And then I would like them to start talking so they can find a solution.”
Three additional digital portraits have been created by artist Yoniest Chun, depicting the stories of other individuals and projects who have achieved incredible things for their communities and peers in supporting refugees as part of The National Lottery’s Peoples’ Portraits series. Also honoured with a portrait is Vladyslava Zhmuro from the Welsh Refugee Council, Abdul Bostani from Glasgow Afghan United and Mary Lafferty from Omagh Community House.