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A personal war: why helping civilians escape means life or death in Ukraine

Refugees from Mariupol, Dnepr, Bucha, Irpin, Kharkiv, and Odesa who escaped Ukraine to Scotland

Can you imagine waking up to the sound of whining missiles, explosions, and bricks as they tumble down from the crumbling houses on your street? Or running through a field peppered with landmines desperately clutching your children, trying with every ounce of strength to escape the soldiers gaining ground on you? Or living for months crowded into a damp, cold basement without access to food or clean clothes?

Can you? Me neither.

But this is the tragic reality for millions of people since Russia invaded Ukraine almost eight months ago.

Daria Tsebrii works tirelessly to relocate families to safety

Daria Tsebrii is the Operations Lead at Sunflower Relief – a not-for-profit grassroots social enterprise founded by Ukrainian-born, London-based entrepreneur Irra Ariella Khi. Daria saw Irra’s work on LinkedIn; they met and have been inseparable ever since.

Sunflower capitalises on the excellent linguistic skills of its volunteer team and its reach within the venture capital community to match foreign aid with verified on-the-ground organisations. Through their work, they deliver aid to civilians trapped in conflict areas or displaced within Ukraine – people frequently overlooked by other humanitarian relief organisations.

On top of her extensive humanitarian aid work, Daria has made it her personal mission to bring as many people as possible from the war-torn cities of Eastern Ukraine to the safety of Scotland.

Based in Edinburgh with her family, Daria was born and bred in Ukraine where she graduated as a lawyer from University in Kharkiv in 2013 – a city now torn apart by conflict. The student dormitory where she and her friends lived together for two years is now an empty, burnt-out shell following multiple missile strikes; the place of so many happy memories reduced to ash.

Student halls where Sunflower’s Daria lived during her time at Kharkiv University: what was once home to students is uninhabitable following heavy bombing

One of Daria’s friends from university, Nadia, and her family, lived in Balakliya City near Kharkiv. Balakliya fell to Russian forces in the early stages of the war. Nadia’s family home was burned and their farming business was destroyed by Russian troops. Their once fertile field is now a barren wasteland blighted with shell craters and landmines, and all their farming machinery has been confiscated.

The women in Nadia’s family escaped along a missile-strewn road to eventually reach Poland. The men stayed behind to join the resistance forces.

Nadia’s photo of the field near her home littered with land mine craters

Daria campaigned for visas for seven family members (Nadia, her two daughters, her mother, her sister, and her nieces) under the Ukraine Scheme, with the Scottish Government as a sponsor. She found them somewhere to live in Edinburgh and dealt with the countless administrative challenges of securing visas for such a large group.

Under the arrangement, Edinburgh Council contributes living costs, food, and free accommodation for six months, while the family rebuild their lives in a new country thousands of miles from home. Four visas were approved after a tortuous six-week wait, and eventually, all seven came through.

In expediting the travel of Ukrainian refugees to Scotland, they are given temporary accommodation in hotels until a more permanent solution is found. But the hotels are full, and instead, refugees arriving after mid-July will reside on a luxury cruise liner docked in Edinburgh. This is where Nadia and her family will live, supported by the people of Scotland.

Daria and Sunflower stand with the people of Ukraine

Nadia is just one example of the numerous people Daria has helped. In total, she applied for 48 visas, all of which were approved: 48 people will escape the war and find safety and security in beautiful Scotland. She continues to work with the resettled refugees.

Seven months into the war and it’s easy for those of us without direct links to Ukraine to feel detached from the events still unfolding there. Helping civilians trapped in Ukraine is the primary mission of Sunflower and the team, but the personal nature of this conflict means Daria, Irra, and all the volunteers spend any free time they have supporting their friends and family in any way possible. This is far from easy, but all part of helping those in need fleeing the conflict.

Daria and Sunflower Relief stand united with Ukraine and its civilians and will remain steadfast until Ukraine is free once again. Now more than ever, civilians need our help to weather the dreadful war engulfing them. If you can support Sunflower’s work by donating resources or aid, please DO get in touch.


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