Rend Platings

A woman, Rend, looks thoughtfully into the near distance.  Behind her is a house which is painted in blue and yellow, like a giant Ukrainian flag.
Rend painted her home in support of Ukraine

I’m Rend, born in the UK to an Iraqi political exile, my father Samir Sumaidaie. He has campaigned all his life for democracy, human rights, civil liberties and against corruption. He worked tirelessly over 35 years against the Saddam regime, he worked to counter misinformation within Iraq by publishing a newspaper which he was successful in doing until the chemical bombing of the Kurds by Saddam. I talk about my father a lot because without him, I would not be who I am. He taught me, from a very early age that standing up to oppression, protecting others from bullies, looking after your friends, all these things and more are what makes us human beings.

I was taught to see such things as my responsibility, to never sit on the fence, never be passive when confronted with injustice even at immense personal risk. It took more than a generation for some of his efforts to pay off, but every day I would see him come home from work and go to his office, write letters to MPs, organise meetings. A day, a week, a month, a year, two years, ten years, twenty years, he did not stop. He still has not stopped.

This example taught me not to expect quick returns and also to do what I think is right even if it might seem as though it will bring no result. Because that way I can feel better about who I am. I can face myself in the mirror.

I was a war child. When I was three years old my father was working in Beirut and there was a civil war there. Bombs, shelling. I was traumatised for some time afterwards. My father didn’t realise the extent of the danger we were in until he saw a rocket scrape past the flat, on the same level as us – he says he even remembers the noise it made, almost scraping the window. A slightly different course and we would not be here at all. I was playing in the bath. He ran in and bundled me up and made the decision to leave Beirut. Many people in Ukraine now are like we were in our flat at that time in Beirut, hearing explosions but not feeling that the danger is too close. Not being ready to leave and scared about what might happen if we do.

As mothers, as parents we understand that the most precious thing in the world is our child, our children. Our daughter who is 8 years old now, is my Chief Inspiration Officer. My father’s first thought when he saw the rocket and his first action was to run to his child. There are too many parents in Ukraine, fearful of what will happen to their children. We know that children have died, that pregnant women and unborn children have died in Ukraine. When it is not someone you know you don’t connect to it in the same way. When someone you care about is even at risk you can barely think of anything else. I know, from my experience of wars, both in Lebanon and in Iraq where my two brothers were conscripts, that behind every single statistic, every fatality there is utter devastation and irreparable loss.

I am proud to be part of a community who have decided that we will do everything in our power to help Ukraine. We will watch carefully to make sure politicians follow up on actions, to make sure charities send the aid to where they say and to make sure that whatever needs we can serve, however we can help, we will do it. We will stage protests, we will bake cakes, we will auction hairdresser appointments, we will hold coffee mornings, we will fund raise, we will awareness raise. We will not stop until every Russian boot is out of Ukraine. We #standwithukraine

This is who I am and it is who we are too. We hope that you will join us and support these efforts and we welcome you to do that whether or not you are a mum, a dad or neither. All are welcome.

Nothing will bring back those who died in this wrongful invasion, but we will do everything in our power to restore Ukraine. I believe Ukraine will emerge from this nightmare more united and strong.

Let’s work together to make that happen!

Agnes Toth

A woman, Agnes, squats on her heels by a river with a windmill in the background.
Agnes finds peace in the Fenland countryside

Hello. My name is Agnes Toth.

I was born in Hungary in the 80s before the iron curtain fell. I grew up in a village on the outskirts of Budapest. My own family has a long history of suffering under Soviet oppression.

My grandparents were farmers when the Russians came to ‘liberate’ us. They lost everything they had: first their food when Russian soldiers pointed their guns at them to hand over every food in the house they had; then the army came and took all their wheat for the entire year leaving the family to starve with children in the family. My grandfather’s sister, a teenage girl at the time,  has been traumatized for her life by something the family never spoke about… She developed serious paranoia and not having had much needed support back then,  never returned to a healthy mental state. Only as an adult could I start imagining what may have happened to her during the Russian invasion, what the family’s reasons might have been to never talk about the incident…

Then during the communism the Russian took all their land and made them sign ‘voluntarily’ a document to give up everything they owned, for it all to go to the Soviet cooperatives. They lost their land, their house, their animals. Everything they worked very very hard for.

In ’56 there was a bloody revolution in Hungary when the country wanted their independence back. Our efforts were met by Russian tanks invading the country. My mum as a young child remembers the tanks entering the boarder. The very same borders where now thousands of Ukrainian refugees are crossing to find safety in Hungary. My mother’s town in fact is only a few kilometers from Hungary- Ukraine border and the streets she grew up in are now flooded with Ukrainian mothers and children fleeing to safety.

Outside the village where I grew up, there was a Russian military air base. I remember to this day the ear piercing noise fighter jets were making every day above our houses practising and keeping peace (?). I remember the fear I felt if accidentally I saw a Russian soldier in the village. I remember always having a plan as a child where to hide if war broke out… Not something any child should ever think about.

Fear of Russian invasion is in my blood. In the collective memory of Hungarians. It is not something I only read about in history books.

I have now been living in Cambridge UK for over a decade. I worked for a number of charities in the East of England and now in my current role at Cambridgeshire County Council I support many community groups and charities in the county. Community has always been something  that meant a lot to me. Diversity, everyone’s wish to be the person they want to be has always been something I was ready to stand up for and fight against oppression.

When this terrible war in Ukraine started my whole body just remembered that fear of a Russian invasion. I’m lucky to be here, in safety. But I want to do everything I possibly can to help Ukrainians fight and survive Putin’s war. A wish to become a truly independent country is a human right.

I organised a silent auction with Cambridge Mums Unite for Ukraine and I’m incredibly grateful to all the individuals and businesses offering incredible items and services to support us. All the money raised through the auction will help Migration Aid in Hungary, a small volunteer led group offering accommodation, transport and more to Ukrainian refugees. Please watch this space!