Natalya Solonynka is one half of the couple who own and run the fabulous English-style pub in Ruzafa, Liverpool Bar, along with Valencian husband Amadeo Garcia. Eugene Costello went to talk to her about her extraordinary appeal to help her countrymen in Ukraine…
Natalya is Ukrainian and like so many of us, has been appalled by the events unfolding in her home country.
Last night, a convoy of trucks departed Valencia bringing much-needed emergency supplies to Natalya’s fellow countrymen. Natalya tells me that when they return empty, having deposited the parcels, the plan is to keep going. This “war” (read “invasion”) shows no signs of stopping. Just today came predictions of four million Ukrainian refugees being displaced, while Russia has been targeting Europe’s largest nuclear station.
A fire started at the Zaporizhzhia plant after it was shelled by Russian troops, Ukrainian officials say.
The humanitarian need is immense
Russia took control of Europe’s largest nuclear power station in Ukraine after shelling it relentlessly. And civilians are being bombed and strafed in scenes reminiscent of World War II. The humanitarian need is immense.
Many are taking shelter underground, without heating or cooking facilities.
“The situation in Ukraine could become ‘Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century’ with more than 600,000 refugees believed to have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries so far,” the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said this week.
Experts predict that figure is likely to rise ten-fold in the coming weeks and months.
Natalya is determined to help her people back home. Which is why she started this Ukrainian appeal in Valencia
Says Natalya: “There are many here in Valencia who already know of the convoys organised by associations such as Plast, the Ukrainian Scouts Association. They have a base in Campanar where they are collecting medical supplies, food and clothes to take to Ukraine.
“There is also the Ukraine Association in Benimaclet collecting for convoys, again seeking food and warm clothes.”
From Ruzafa With Love
So where does Natalya come in?
“We wanted to do our bit, to provide a collection point here in Ruzafa,” she says.
“If people have cars, sure, they can go to Campanar or Benimaclet.
“But many of our regulars, friends and neighbours do not have cars here in Ruzafa, but want to help. We are bridging that gap by designating Liverpool Bar as a collection point. We then take everything donated up there once a week.”
Indeed, I have arrived at 6pm, an hour before Liverpool Bar officially opens, and there is already a queue of people on foot carrying bags and parcels to donate. They are at the back of the bar, and throughout our interview, there is a steady stream of neighbours filing past us to deposit their supplies.
Natalya smiles, and says, “We are so touched by the generosity of people here in Valencia. They are bringing food and clothes, and we take it all up to Plast or the Ukrainian Association.
“People have been so good,” she adds, dabbing away tears.
“Many people here in Ruzafa don’t have cars. And even the ones that do, maybe they are working and have to look after children, so maybe they don’t have time. So we are happy to do this.
Three trucks left Valencia last night but Natalya is keen to emphasise that the need continues. More convoys will keep departing Valencia as the long as the dread, chill need is there.
“Please continue to help,” says Natalya. “This invasion will not stop tomorrow.”
To each according to their need…
I ask what the priorities are.
Natalya tells me that they need first-aid medicine, food – especially food for children and babies – “clothes and warm bedding for babies, are the most important right now, because babies are being born in underground places without heating,” says Natalya.
And, she says, food for adults as well, especially canned goods and food that is ready to eat.
“Pasta is no good because you need to cook it, and many people have no access to cooking facilities,” she points out.
Natalya’s own family are from Lviv in the west of Ukraine, close to the Polish border and have not – as yet – borne the brunt of Russian aggression.
“For the moment, thanks to God, Lviv is relatively quiet, at least for now. I suppose it is because the Russians are concentrating on the east, that they pretend is Russian territory, and Kyiv, because it is the capital.”
For the moment, Natalya’s region is considered too far away to target, though she takes little hope from that.
“What we have seen from Putin, he ran into more opposition than he expected,” she says with evident pride for her countrymen. “But for sure, if he could attack us, he would.”
For now, she says, it is eastern Ukraine that is suffering the most.
“Cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol,” she says. “And they are bombing civilian targets, houses and flats where people live. When they say they are focusing on military targets, it is a huge lie.
“They are even hitting hospitals and do not care if they kill women and children. In the night, I read that in Konotop, Russian soldiers entered and ordered everyone to leave their underground shelters, and go back up so they would become a human shield.”
You can make a difference
She finishes by saying, what Putin is doing is no different to what Hitler did.
Amadeo’s views on Putin are probably not suitable for me to publish. Suffice it to say that he has festooned the signage at the front of the bar with banners saying, “Putin killer”.
His proposal for what should happen to Putin himself certainly cannot be published but call to mind the ignominious ends of Mussolini, Gaddafi and Ceucescu.
Natalya thanks me for my time and clasps my hand, saying, “Thank you so much for helping to share our appeal. I do not wish to be drawn into the political side of everything – I just cannot stand by while my people are being killed and starving.”
Truly, a Valencia local hero…
• Liverpool Bar, Carrer de Sueca, 74, 46006 València, Valencia; +34 144 278; Wednesday to Friday, 7pm – 3:30am, Saturday 5pm – 3:30am; But you can help this Ukrainian appeal in Valencia and drop off emergency supplies an hour before opening