Stockport’s Ukrainian Club is alive with activity – and concern.
In one room, a child’s birthday party is well underway.
Another room sees Ukrainians discussing the ongoing situation, each updating one another on how their families are doing.
Another group is ferrying donations up and down the stairs.
Amidst all of this is Iwan Kluka.
He’s surprisingly mobile for a 98-year-old and is keen to be involved with the discussions.
If anyone knows the terrible costs of war in the region, it’s Iwan.
He fought against Stalin’s Red Army as it took the country in the Second World War.
Iwan was one of the lucky ones, being given refuge by the British Army in Glossop shortly after the end of the war.
He tells the Manchester Evening News that 30,000 of his fellow volunteer soldiers were executed by the Soviets after the fall of Berlin.
And now, he says, Russia’s ‘inhumane’ invasion might have claimed the life of his nephew.
“It’s terrible,” he says, pausing for thought.
“I live here, but in my heart I am Ukrainian – that’s my country.
“What Putin is doing is unbelievable. It’s inhumane.
“What I experienced [in the 1940s]… to see those atrocities… they just don’t have any feeling for the human being.”
For Iwan, the war is not just a distressing attack on his homeland which he fought for.
It’s also an attack on his family.
“I had a nephew in Kharkiv,” he explains.
“He was fighting, I think I have lost him. I cannot get in touch with him.
“I don’t know [if he is alive].”
Iwan also does not know how his childhood is doing.
He adds: “She’s in southern Ukraine. She was alright when I rang her a week ago.
“I do not know how she is today. There’s no answer.
“I feel horrible.”
Iwan isn’t alone at the club.
Luba Brown’s family have fled from a city in the country’s west, which has thus far only been spared the worst of the fighting by virtue of its geography, to villages in the mountains.
The 60-year-old says: “It’s awful, there’s nothing we can do. I’m lucky to get texts from my family in the west.
“They have family in the mountains and are hoping they will be safe.”
Alexandra Poluzyn is the club’s chair. It is officially a branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain.
It welcomed Stockport MP Navendu Mishra on Saturday (March 5).
Like Luba, her family seems to be safe, but are choosing to stay in the country.
Two male relatives have been called up to fight, with others scrambling to get to the Polish border.
“My cousin have [gone] to help Red Cross at the Polish border,” she says.
“Originally, they tried to cross last Friday, but the Ukrainian government put restrictions on men leaving.
“Luckily him and his fiancée have been able to reach safety from Lviv.”
Alexandra has also been co-ordinating fundraising efforts at the center – saying the club has been ‘inundated’ with goods – and is now asking people to give money online.
The club simply cannot handle the volume of items in its store room, she says.
Throughout the visit of Mr Mishra – who says Russia’s actions are ‘unacceptable’ – there’s constant concern on every members’ face.
“It’s always on your mind,” Luba says.
“All the time. We go to bed thinking about it. We are looking on our phones [for news]. Some of the images coming out are just horrific.”
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