South Tyneside-born teacher fears for family and friends in Ukraine, and tells of heroism and suffering amid Russian invasion

South Tyneside-born teacher Michael Hudson lived and worked in Ukraine, and married a Ukrainian woman. Here he tells of his fears for his family and friends, and gives an insight into life in the Eastern European nation.

I was born in South Shields and grew up in Hebburn and Jarrow. As a kid, for my generation, war was just something our grandparents didn't really want to talk to us about.

I became a teacher and eventually moved to Ukraine. In 2019, I married my Ukrainian wife, Yuliana, at Newcastle Civic Centre.

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The following year, our Geordie-Spanish-Ukrainian son, Daniel, was born here in the Canary Islands, where I live now.

Michael with wife Yuliana and son Daniel.

Late last year his grandparents from Jarrow were able to meet him for the first time.

Today, his Ukrainian grandmother and great-grandmother, are sitting in a flat in Kyiv listening to air ride sirens and the sound of bombs, waiting for the tank column to arrive.

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Ada, Daniel's great-grandmother, was a doctor in the USSR. Her dad was a Red Army general, her husband – a psychiatrist – was a submariner and colonel in the Soviet Navy.

Ada is a proud woman, but last year she had a mini-stroke and today she can't even move well enough to make it to the bomb shelter.

A picture from Michael's time in Kyiv.

So they sit and they wait and they try their best to sleep. "When will it end?" she asked us today.

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Ukrainian’s such as Ada can’t imagine Russians doing this, just as we can no longer imagine Civil War battles in our cities or troops skirmishing on Boldon Hills.

I was a teacher in Ukraine, in Odessa and Kyiv. I also gave training seminars for teachers, all around the country in places you might now be seeing on the news: Kharkiv, Dnipro, Zhytomyr and dozens of other towns and cities now burning on your screens.

I have other family members in the country and hundreds of friends. Teachers, doctors, students, mothers, sons, daughters, IT workers, translators.

Yuliana and Daniel.
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Most importantly, normal people who are hospitable, open and warm-hearted – the qualities we prize in ourselves.

Like us, all they ever wanted was to live in peace in a country that was going to be a better place for their children to grow up in. Their tragedy is to be neighbours with a country now ruled by someone whose only aim is to drag them backwards into the darkness and has very little care whether they live or die in the attempt.

Ukrainains and Russians are linked like the British and the Irish or the English and the Scots. Shared history, shared families. Now friends in Ukraine weep on the phone with their Russian relatives, who are too scared to say or do anything publicly for fear of arrest.

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Michael with former colleagues.

Ukrainians are scared too. Terrified. But, as you see on the news, they are fighting for their land and future with every sinew of their beings. They have a heroism which reminds me of my grandfather, who spent his 29th birthday on a Normandy beachfront and never forgot the Dutch he helped free. Just as they never forgot the people who stood for their freedom.

Who are the people who ask us for help? Let me tell you in their own words. There’s my friend from Kharkiv, a secondary school teacher. She’s still there now, in the city, trying to organise food deliveries for students whose parents can’t go to any shops, homeschooling her seven-year-old daughter and watching her neighbourhood and the university she studied at be pummelled by bombs.

“My daughter had to study Chinese and she couldn’t concentrate because of the explosions,” she wrote on the first day of shelling. By the fourth, her daughter had already adjusted to the new forced normalities of life. “She refused to sleep most of the night. ‘I’m on duty, mum.’ She didn’t cry once. She knows what war is.”

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And there’s my student. She’s 16 years old and now in Poland. In the future, she’d like to be a film director but for now all she remembers is the night a rocket hit a power station and a plane was shot down. “I’m doing better, but I don’t think that i will ever not be afraid of loud noises or fireworks again.”

Or a friend, a university teacher who used to train journalists, and was just about to start a new job as a copywriter when Russia invaded.

“We had to flee on a bus that wasn’t designed for people. It had no windows, no seats. So we were sitting in that darkness and I knew that life would never be the same. And I know that we’ll win but this ‘we’ won’t include a lot of great people and this is the most painful thing of all. But the brain copes with it because the brain has no choice.”

Michael with wife Yuliana and son Daniel.
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How can you help the people of Ukraine? If you haven’t already seen the collection points for clothes and medical supplies, there will be one nearby. You can donate to the British Red Cross to help civilians or help buy protective equipment for the Ukrainian military at: https://savelife.in.ua/en/donate/

It will be tempting to look away. That’s how the brain copes with it when it has no choice. Ukrainians don’t have that option right now. Perhaps they never will. If you can, please help.

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