The Heart of Bucks ‘Inspiring Buckinghamshire’ series gives local people from a range of sectors a chance to share their knowledge and insights to help inspire others.
Here we are speaking with Olena Dmytryeva, Regulatory Affairs Associate and Ukrainian national living in Buckinghamshire.
Tell us about yourself and your connection to Buckinghamshire.
It was a huge culture-shock, moving all the way to the UK from a small town in Ukraine at the young age of 11; the only insight into what to expect from life in the UK were the colourful English language textbooks showing beautiful Big Ben and London Eye! Having such a warm welcome, and support from the locals, really helped with quick adaptation.
Locations throughout Buckinghamshire will always hold lots of memories throughout my journey from childhood into adulthood. Wherever life took me from school, university and my career in the pharmaceutical industry- I’ve found my grounding here.
While my family moved to other neighbouring ‘shires, my preference has always been to remain in the heart of Bucks! Being a nature enthusiast with a passion for the outdoors, there is always something to satisfy that adventure-seeking part of me. I can often be found exploring the hiking trails in Wendover woods, volunteering at the RSPCA or just sitting by the lake with a book and coffee.
What personal achievements are you most proud of?
February 24th has changed mine and millions of other lives forever; it was the day Russia launched a full-scale attack in Ukraine. The first days after the attack were most challenging. Myself, my friends and family were disoriented and in disbelief. Grief, shock and anger came in waves; the uncertainty of whether it will be possible to see anyone back in Ukraine was, and still is, difficult to ignore.
My grandparents already had to flee the war on several occasions – first was the WWII, just small children, both aged less than 2-years old. The second time was in 2014, my small town (where I was born) on the border with Russia: Snizhne, Donbass region was attacked; men with riffles, tanks on the streets forced my family once again to re-locate to Dnipro-region; Eastern Ukraine. Fast forward to 2022, my frail grandparents are now in their 80s, once again facing the dangers of the war. Escaping now is a dangerous option.
My family struggles and heritage has shaped my views and my proudest moment does not stem from the accomplishment completed by myself. In March this year, while volunteering in Poland, I was most proud of being part of the most incredible team- the global volunteers. The united goal of helping people, transcended all the language and cultural barriers. We were from the UK, Netherlands, Poland, US, Australia and Ukraine, all united for the same cause. If you were to ask any of the volunteers ( and I did- many times!), what made them come to Poland, everyone had the same response: “We were watching the news, we just couldn’t do nothing and stay at home”.
The long days were a welcome change from the daily life. Although there was no “typical day” as such, the mornings were spent in the “Food Tent”, on fruit duty. While afternoons were more diverse – explaining the visa process for the UK to those who wish to move on from Poland, to translating/interpreting for a pediatric US nurse, who was just as keen as I to help the mothers with children to overcome health issues. The evenings were spent in the company of other volunteers, after emotionally and physically intense days it was our respite.
One of the days, along with other volunteers, we travelled to the Polish/Ukrainian border, roughly 250km away from Krakow. There our mission was to aid displaced Ukrainian refugees arriving from Ukraine- extreme fatigue so evident across their faces, many didn’t have suitcases with them- just a plastic bag containing all the belongings they could grab. It was impressive how the Poles had organised the fire brigade and police to help the women and the elderly with bags. Although, the presence of police had a darker underlying reason- to ensure those escaping war did not fall victim to human trafficking.
What are some of the challenges you have faced, and how have you overcome them?
In difficult moments- people cope differently. After the initial shock of war had worn off, my energy has been re-directed into helping those in need. I spent hours with other people at Trafalgar Square to protest against the war- the energy of the crowd and the desire to do what’s right was healing. The next step was to collect donations and share them – in the face of the war there was no time to set up charity accounts, the help was needed immediately. My links with front-line volunteers in the east helped to deliver the financial aid from the UK to where it was needed.
After the day job, I had lots of “help” requests through social media- they’ve ranged from helping with finding sponsors for the “Homes for Ukraine” scheme to translation help.
While time was limited, and the numbers requiring help grew- the support of the local community really helped to cope with the demand. I saw people of different ages and races come together to try and help any way they could. I have also become a volunteer of the Buckinghamshire Council, Community Capacity subgroup, where our aim is to shape the response of the local community to the war and those fleeing in most meaningful way.
Being involved in so many avenues to help makes me feel proud of the local community and the UK. We all have a pivotal role in our response to the Ukrainian crisis and each day we are closer to peace.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
There have been so many great advices throughout my life, from my family and friends to people that came through my life unexpectedly.
I truly believe, that in your life you cross paths with people for a reason, a certain purpose; whether it is to learn more about the world around you or to find out more about yourself.
With this in mind, in 2017 while in India, exploring the nature reserve in the northern parts of the country, our tour guide had a key phrase: “always expect the unexpected”. It may be difficult to extrapolate that advice outside of exotic nature reserves to daily life, however, it has never failed me!
What is your greatest hope for the future for Buckinghamshire?
I’ve never been more in touch with my heritage than I have been over the past few months. It’s really great to see the local support and acceptance of everyone within Buckinghamshire. This doesn’t only relate to the Ukrainian crisis response; overall people of all backgrounds form an integral part of the community.
Everyone deserves to find their home and hopefully in future we wouldn’t have as many situations which lead to displacement. In the future, I hope that we are able to welcome and integrate many Ukrainian refugees and help them feel safe and secure in our Buckinghamshire.
If you’d like to read any more of our Inspiring Buckinghamshire entries, please click here.