I am sitting in the marina enjoying a coffee with Roman Grymalyuk and Yuliya Suschych. The only indication that there is a war raging in Europe is the “Stand with Ukraine” t-shirt that Roman is wearing. We are here to discuss how the duo are supporting their countrymen in the Algarve and back in their homeland.

WORDS Sophie Sadler

Roman arrived in the Algarve 17 years ago. Until Russia invaded Ukraine, he was living a quiet life with his wife and two children while running a construction business. As soon as the war broke out, he and other members of the Ukrainian Community were busy mobilising the humanitarian effort, including the convoys that travelled from Portugal to the Polish/Ukraine border. “At first everyone wanted to help. All of my clients were donating items, even vehicles to join the convoys. It is understandable that everyone is getting tired of the news now and the war is going to last a long time. I am just trying to keep the efforts alive, to raise money and help the refugees who came here to become self-sufficient.”

Roman is now tirelessly working alongside the Câmara de Lagos to ensure the refugees get the support they need. The convoys that returned to Portugal with refugees were mostly uniting Ukrainians with families living in the Algarve. He thinks that realistically no more will come to the Algarve. There just isn’t enough free accommodation and living costs, especially in this area, are high.

He is in touch with one of his school friends, Olexander, who had been living in Leiria but returned to Ukraine to fight. He explains that there is no logic in spending 1500€ on sending a vehicle to Ukraine with clothes and food. Instead, he has focused his energies on raising money for aid, including medical supplies, in Portugal. He even had t-shirts printed that he was selling in the marina for 10€ (one with the logo ”Stand with Ukraine” and the other making an unprintable reference to what Ukraine does to Russian battleships!) He has also printed car stickers and made bracelets that people can buy to show their support for Ukraine.

Yuliya Suschych arrived in Portugal in 2001 and considers herself to be one of the ‘first wave’ of Ukrainian immigrants arriving in Portugal. She is now married to an English man and has two daughters and speaks Ukrainian, Russian, English and Portuguese. Her linguistic skills have been in demand, helping her countrymen through the bureaucratic process in Portugal, getting children enrolled in schools and being a shoulder to cry on. She was even interviewed on the Portuguese CNN news about the pop-up shop for Ukrainians in Praia da Luz.

“Many of the Ukrainians who have arrived here are desperate and grieving. Their houses and even their towns have been destroyed and they have nothing to go back to. Others can work online and are just seeing Portugal as temporary. I hope they are right.”

Yuliya was born in the USSR but her home town in Ukraine is Kherson, a strategic city on the Black sea that was the first major Ukrainian city captured by Russian forces during the Southern Ukraine offensive. Fortunately, her mother and sister were in Portugal when the war broke out. “I don’t need to watch the news. I see the unedited version on my phone with the videos friends send me.”

Roman gained the support of the Câmara de Lagos to host a Ukraine festival on the 28th and 29th of May. The aim was not just to raise money, but to celebrate Ukrainian culture, which is, they reflect, what they are fighting for. He speaks with enthusiasm about the food, dancing and music that comes from Ukraine. Following their Eurovision win, it is evident the rest of Europe are also keen to celebrate their culture too. 

The festival was sponsored by Marina de Lagos, Baptista, Gelataria and Adega de Marina. As well as selling Ukrainian crafts, food and drink there was a raffle with local businesses generously donating some excellent prizes, including two nights in the marina hotel, dinners, 18 holes at Palmares, tickets to Golf Land and a GC32 catamaran experience. The raffle will not be drawn until after the festival so you can still buy tickets.

He is keen to emphasise that he is not working alone. There are a lot of people trying to help, including some of the refugees who are making crafts to sell at the festival. They will also be auctioning a limited edition Ukrainian stamp. The mint of Ukraine printed these to raise money and they have been selling for thousands.

Roman’s goal is to raise enough money to buy an ambulance from Spain that he will send to Ukraine with medical supplies. But he notes it is not just about the money. “Before the war, I thought the world was lost. But the unity and solidarity have been amazing. The only way we can get through this is with love. It’s not about materialism or technology. It is about coming together as humans.”

Yuliya reflects, “For Ukrainians, war is in our blood. But we know how to sing and dance as if it’s the last day of our lives. It’s part of our spirit. It’s how we deal with our pain.”

For more information about fundraising for Ukraine and to enter the raffle, you can follow their Instagram

@felizonda or FB: Felizonda

If you are a business and wish to donate a prize for the raffle please contact Roman +351 913 333 990