Ukraine rocks

Photo of the event poster by the author

On 24 February 2022, I saw the first footage of Putin’s invasion of a sovereign nation, Ukraine: the beginning of what will be a long journey of suffering for so many innocent civilians. I’m sure we all agree that this conflict doesn’t belong in the 21st century, whether here in Europe or anywhere else in the world. As I am trying to make sense of it all, I am hoping that my credo – that something good comes out of everything bad that happens – will prove right once again. We humans won’t stand a chance to tackle the problems that are far greater than territorial and political dispute, until the nations of the world come together in agreement.

But for now, as I was watching the news day in, day out, witnessing the displacement of so many families from their homes, trying to reach safety from Russian attacks, we – five members of a rock covers band called Downside Up – decided we needed to do our part and help in any way we can, even if a few hundred pounds are just a drop in this ocean of sorrow. It would have been easy to just hand over the money from one of our gigs and be done with it. However, aside from the urge to give money, we also wanted to bring our community together in the process and give a lot of people the opportunity to do their part, to give whatever they can afford to a good cause.

A charity was quickly found (based at St Mary’s & St Anthony’s – Catholic parishes in Poole) through a friend of mine, Mike Abreu. Together with Ewa’s Café at Poole Bus Station, they are collecting and buying goods that are needed the most in a camp for displaced people near the Polish-Ukrainian border. So far, Mike has taken two van loads with daily essentials and money to the Sulejówek Camp between Warsaw and Treblinka – a round trip of 2,500 miles that takes six days.

Loading the van and Ewa’s café (courtesy Mike Ebreu)

I chose these guys because they don’t take any money from the donations to ‘cover costs’. Au contraire: the money for ferry and fuel to Poland was covered by the driver.  Mike says it is difficult to take photos at the camp: most men refuse to be photographed because they feel like cowards for not fighting, even when they’re way too old; many of the women don’t know where their husbands are, or whether they are still alive; children who arrived alone, because their parents are trapped in Ukraine. People very often arrived with nothing but a suitcase, carrying whatever is left from a life in their homes, now taken and destroyed by Putin’s army. The camp has space for 100 people, but over 140 reside there currently. Hence, there is a picture that shows cabins being built.

Building cabins at the refugee camp (courtesy Mike Ebreu)

The Poles are truly amazing: everybody working there does that on a voluntary basis, even the camp leaders. One is a teacher, the other a paramedic. When you look at the hundreds of thousands of refugees being taken care of by people who may not have much more than those fleeing the war, the thought of the Tories being proud of their ‘track record in helping those in need’ brings tears of anger in my eyes. Women and children being scrutinised by the Home Office as if they all just come here to steal, as if the government and the British people are the victims and need protection. This government is not just destroying social care, human rights and the economy – they are destroying the British character.

The refugee camp (courtesy Mike Ebreu)

Back to the planning! Next on the agenda was to find a venue. And we could not have done better had we tried. Poole Hill Brewery is located at 41-43 Poole Hill, an iconic building that had many different purposes in the past, which was given a new lease of life by brewing aficionado Jennifer Tingay. The interior is a creation of love in detail, incredibly cosy, and it has a stage – perfect for us. Most striking, however, is the wooden Victorian pub front, inspired by Jennifer’s dream of creating something that Bournemouth doesn’t have much of: history.

Poole Hill Brewery (courtesy Jennifer Tingay)

Other bands to join in were easily found. We would have been able to put on a festival rivalling Glastonbury – at least in terms of duration – but the first three that contacted us minutes after word was put out were chosen: Andy Southern Rose (who launched his second album at the event), Otis Jay Blues Band, and Barefoot Soul. Another point in which those acts were as good as anything you can see at Glastonbury, was the passion they exhibited on stage. We can only say that we were humbled by the support and the willingness to contribute in terms of time, money and gifts that were used as raffle prizes by these wonderful musicians.

Absolutely fantastic was also the support from Dorset for Europe, who publicised the event in their newsletter and sent many wonderful people to the Poole Hill Brewery, some of whom left hours later with boxes and bottles of beer and prosecco won from the fund-raising raffle. They also helped in having our event included in the Summer of Europe 2022 programme, something we all are very grateful for. The Summer of Europe is a cultural celebration spanning the diversity of the European continent, for all those for whom Europe is home. It is founded on shared cultures and values, inviting exchanges which transcend borders of every kind.

Andy Southern Rose is from Italy, and the beauty of his homeland is wonderfully worked into his music. I am German but as European as they come. We were bringing together musicians from Italy, Germany and Britain, to offer a true celebration of different music genres and cultures for a great cause. The vision of the Festival of Europe (of which the Summer of Europe is part) is one of unity, cooperation and friendship, now and in the future. The purpose of our event was to bring people from all different backgrounds together to support their brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe who need Europe – including the United Kingdom – and the rest of the world to stand together against violence & brutality, now and in future. And Bournemouth is the perfect platform, being as multicultural as it is. 

Enjoying ‘Ukraine Rocks’ (courtesy Rob Brennan Photography)

Finally, the event happened, and the audience was just awesome. So many friends we just hadn’t met yet, who came to the Poole Hill Brewery on that sunny Sunday in June. We didn’t have to go around waving buckets in people’s faces, no, they chased us to put money in. And that was wonderful to see amongst all the joy and laughter and dancing all around, that the people there hadn’t forgotten what the event was for in the first place – our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, wherever they may be. I personally hope I don’t have to put on another Ukraine Rocks event, as much as I loved every minute of it. I would prefer that the war will come to a swift end, and Ukrainians can focus on rebuilding their country, and their faith in humanity.

Video courtesy of Scott Miguel from Downside Up and Rob Brennan Photography

You can watch the event here.