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Dad’s mission to save wife and son stuck in Ukraine



Dads are incredible.  

We’ve all been following the newsfeed, watching in horror as buildings are destroyed and families separated by the continuing escalation of violence in Ukraine. We sit here feeling hopeless. Wondering what we could do to help?  

Imagine though, how much worse this would be if you were Dad, Ian Umney?  

Ian met his wife Nelia while he was teaching at his family’s language school in Nikopol, Ukraine. Wind the clocks forward, Nelia and Ian married and had Jonathan, their now 2.5 year old son. This year Ian was working away from the family here in the UK when world events caught up with him. Reports in the UK media of the escalation of conflict in Ukraine left Ian’s family at risk. So, he jumped on a plane. 

Ian, Nelia and Jonathan have now been back in the UK, in St Helens for three weeks. 

Travelling overland from East to West Ukraine, into Moldova and then Romania. The journey Ian tells me was ‘long and exhausting’. Travelling with their young son, who wasn’t well and needed nursing on the endless trip. Some of the lucky ones, with pre-existing UK visas, a flight brought them back to the UK and home to family and friends, ‘tired, exhausted and drained’.  

Ian is so grateful his son is still young, and seemingly oblivious to what has just happened. 

‘You could tell him the worst thing in the world and he’d still be happy’

Before they left the only home Jonathan had ever known, Ian took his tiny son for a walk into the still calm countryside and tried to explain, ‘we have to leave because some people are trying to attack your homeland, we have to go’. Ian knows Jonathan can’t take it in, but wanted for his own conscience to be fully honest with him.

Back in St Helens

Ian’s main job right now is to settle his wife and son into their new home. He is being supported by friends and family who have brought real joy by donating toys and clothes to help them feel at home. Nelia, Ian’s wife is still processing what happened. Her journey has been even harder, having had to respect her parent’s choice to be left behind.

Pack your Bags

Ian feels he has had more time to get used to the idea. He could see what was coming and even before the invasion Ian had asked Nelia to ‘pack a bag’. He hopes, now they are in the UK, to help Nelia stay calm. The upside of what has happened to his family, is that for the first time in a long time, they are living together under one roof.

‘Its amazing going to sleep next to my wife, my son threw a ball at my head this morning to wake me up and I loved it!’.

But everything for now is tinged with sadness and loss, ‘we don’t have our other home, we are missing out on so much.’

Supporting Refugees

Ian is doing the Dad juggle, balancing his conflicting priorities of work, family and his 100% committment to supporting refugees leaving Ukraine. I need to remember Ian says, ‘to make sure my family sees my face everyday’.  As part of SWUSH, a newly formed charitable group created to support refugees from Ukraine, they have already packed and sent out two lorries full of essential goods. Ian travelled out of Ukraine as a refugee with a suitcase and a pram. He knows exactly what families do and do not need right now. Their collection point is open for donations of goods. They’ll take most things, they’ve only so far turned down a Christmas tree! As anything which isn’t of practical use to fleeing families, can be sold cheaply to pay for the truck’s fuel.  

What help does Ian need?

Ian feels moved to help, and right now, fundraising is the most ‘important job I can play here.’ However, although cash is king in these situations, Ian has been thinking of other ways that Dads could help out.

‘Dads can imagine what it would be like if their children had to leave and they had to stay behind’.

Ukrainian Dads can’t leave the country. Ian asks UK Dads to do what we can. ‘There are women and children alone in the world right now. If there are ways that Dads can step up, drive to the airport and arrange playdates, donate old toys and clothes and take them to children who need them, then Ukrainian Dads will be forever grateful’. 

Ian has been told his area should prepare for the arrival of refugees. He suggests a couple of ways people in the UK might be able to help. 

  • If you are a confident driver, people will need airport collections here in the UK. Contact groups like his to offer your help. Ian knows it is a big ask! But people also need drivers in Europe, be in touch if that is you.
  • If you are good at visa applications and form filling in general, then these legal admin skills could be put to significant use. So be in touch.  

The outbreak of violence on this scale has shocked Europe. Ian’s hope is that refugees will experience kindness and tolerance, because his heart tells him that Ukrainians will return home. ‘ I hope it will settle down, we see these war scenarios, if everything calms down Ukrainians will go back and rebuild. If that time comes’. 

Thanks for talking to Ian, and stay in touch.

To learn more about Ian’s efforts follow him on Twitter – Stand With Ukraine St Helens

If you are struggling to know how to talk to your children about what is happening in Ukraine, try reading our simple guide: How to Talk to Children about the Invasion of Ukraine |

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