A year later, the fierce Russian invasion is still raging, and 1,739 miles away, the people of Nottingham are still there, more united than ever, to fight for Ukraine’s freedom. 

One year ago, Lidiia Pivtorak and her son Myroslav were hiding in an underground shelter beneath her apartment in Kyiv, not knowing if tomorrow would come.

Holding her 7 – year – old son in the dark and cramped space, she thought: “What choice do we have when on the ground there are rockets, bullets, and planes coming towards us?”

Today, they are in a much safer place, surrounded by protesters who unite to fight for their nation’s independence.

Lidiia and Myroslav were among the 400 people chanting during a protest organised by Notts Ukraine Solidarity Campaign in the Old Market Square, at the Brian Clough Statue on Saturday, following a vigil that took place the day before to mark 365 days of the full-scale invasion.

Lidiia Pivtorak and her son Myroslav stand in front of the Nottingham Council House. Photo by Hoang Ho

Witnessing the scenes of people from many parts of the world raising placards, holding hands, and singing together, Lidiia couldn’t hold her emotion.

The 39-year-old mother said: “It’s so important to us because it shows we are not alone in this fight.

“I’m deeply moved by the support not only of British people but also of many people from all over the world, whom I can now call ‘friends’.”

Recalling what happened a year ago, a “terrible” shiver ran down Lidiia’s spine.

She said: “It was 5am and I couldn’t understand what was going on.

“As soon as my husband said: ‘Lidiia, it (the war) has happened’, I heard rockets.

“My family had to live underground for so long, but what choice do we have anyway?”

Elina Babich, now volunteering at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre. Photo by Hoang Ho

Elina Babich, 26, now living in Basford and had to start her life from scratch, shared the same feeling.

She said: “Deep down, I was terrified.

“We couldn’t even go to the bunker the first night because it was too far from Kharkiv – my hometown.

“I was very afraid as I also had to take care of my 10-year-old sister, but I couldn’t show my fear in front of her.

“I was as brave as I could possibly be at that moment just to make sure that my little sister was okay because she would be scared if she knew how we felt.”

One year ago, they had to face everything by themselves, but today…this is no longer.

On Saturday, in the Old Market Square, their pain was, once again, heard and empathized with by others.

Jay Mandal, from Mansfield, with a huge Ukraine flag in his hand, waited an hour before the march started.

The 54-year-old doctor said: “When the war happened, I felt I couldn’t stay silent.

“Last year, I was outside of the Russian Embassy itself, and I was so impressed by the courage of the Ukrainians.

“I really want these kinds of events to be held regularly because we must not forget, and we must not get tired when fighting for freedom.

“This war must have a conclusion, with the win for Ukraine.

“Solidarity, we are with you, it may take time, but victory is assured.”

Jay Mandal, from Mansfield, turns up early for the march. Photo by Hoang Ho

Coming from Hong Kong, C, who did not want to be named, knows a thing or two about loss.

She said: “As a Hong Konger, I understand that freedom isn’t for granted.

“Here, in the UK, we have democracy and free speech, but that’s not the same in Hong Kong.

“I hope they win and I’m sorry for their loss, I understand how they feel when many of them are separated from their loved ones.

“It’s the same for many of us as there are many people from Hong Kong who have had to leave their country and their families behind.”

C, from Hong Kong, shows support for Ukraine. Photo by Hoang Ho

The protest is important but for Steve Palmer, a member of the Notts Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, it would have been better if the event hadn’t been there in the first place.

He said: “We always avoid calling it an anniversary because there is nothing to celebrate.

“I just wanted to raise public awareness so that people don’t forget Ukraine (laughs).

“This is also a chance for everyone as well as the Ukrainian community to come together.”

Among the crowd that day, there was also an unsung hero who has been collecting tonnes of donations and sending them to vulnerable people suffering from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Her name is Ann Vickers, one of the founders of City Hub Ukraine.

Ann Vickers, one of the founders of City Hub Ukraine, also joins the march. Photo by Hoang Ho

Since the war began, more than 600 tonnes of necessities, on lorries and ferries, have made the 1715-mile journey to Poltava, Ukraine, where people are facing the worst time of their lives.

At the event, the 55-year-old said: “It’s good to see so many people here today from all nationalities.

“I will continue to help them find new shelters and send more donations to Ukraine.

“I want to do it for them, to give them more hope.”

People attending the event were also inspired by a speech from David Mellen, leader of Nottingham City Council.

He said: “I’m proud that so many people are here today, that we can stand here together, in front of the Council House, a symbol of democracy.

“Nottingham stands with Ukraine, Slava Ukraini!”

David Mellen, leader of Nottingham City Council, read out his speech standing with Ukraine. Photo by Hoang Ho

The support from the Nottingham people has touched the hearts of the refugees.

Lidiia said: “The people here have been very kind to us.

“They helped me with everything from finding an apartment and a bed to even a fridge and washing machine.

“A true thank you isn’t really enough.”

And for Elina, this encouragement really gives her confidence in the independence her country has been waiting for.

She said: “I am so inspired to see such tremendous support as it is even more than I expected.

“I am grateful for what the UK has given us from humanitarian aid, housing, and weapons to fight against Russia.

“I stopped crying a long time ago, but I will definitely cry again on the day of our victory.”

Many people say that pigeon is the symbol of peace.

On Saturday, hundreds of pigeons spread their wings and flew above the Nottingham Council House, where the Ukrainian flag was flown atop the building.