GUESTS from Afghanistan, Ukraine and Syria gathered at The Arc on Saturday afternoon in what was a powerful display of solidarity from the city's residents displaced by conflict.

People who have fled various warzones swapped stories and experiences in hope of helping each other settle in their new environment.

The event, which was organised by the Winchester Muslim Cultural Association (WMCA) in tandem with Winchester Rotary and Winchester City of Sanctuary, saw a collection of speakers address crowds.

Various games and activities were on offer for some of the younger attendees. They were accompanied by flipcharts with 'keywords' written on them to inspire people to share their thoughts.

Members of the Syrian community provided guests with food from their homeland, giving them a chance to sample some of Syria's cuisine.

Miff Kayum, member of both WMCA and Winchester Rotary, said: "In our Muslim community we have lots of people from Syria and Afghanistan, so they've had similar kinds of experiences in terms of fleeing a war-torn country and settling in a new part of the world with a different language, custom and culture.

"So, we thought that they could support each other. The Syrian community were very keen to share their experience and learning to help Ukrainians arriving in Winchester. It has turned into a wonderful cultural display for the Ukrainians - it is really touching.

"I spoke to one lady who was almost in tears during the performances, and it really drives it home that they've left their husbands, families and entire livelihood to come here. But, an opportunity like this where they can express themselves and feel valued in a wider community is very important for both sides - and so many organisations have worked together in unison to make that happen."

Winchester Rotary has been helping support various aid efforts since the war in Ukraine began. As more Ukrainians arrive in Winchester, it is also planning further events to help them feel at home in their new surroundings. Later this month, the Rotary Club is taking a group of Ukrainian mothers and their children on a day trip to Marwell Zoo.

Fellow Rotary club member, Gill Russell, said: "These people are so homesick and we know they don't really want to be here, but at the same time they're so grateful for all the help they're getting. It's a wonderful thing that our guests from Syria and Afghanistan are willing to share and want to help. We're hoping today will give us a better idea of what people need from us, so we as organisations can support this process as best we can."

Those in attendance were also treated to a performance from the Kalyna Choir, a Ukrainian group formed by women who have arrived in Winchester under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, as well as dancing from Elena Popova and Anna Paniotova.

The pair used to dance Flamenco together in Ukraine, and have since reunited in Winchester after their mutual friend, Tatiana Salvage, helped them find accommodation in the city.

They also recently performed at a sold out concert for refugee aid at All Hallows Church in Whitchurch alongside a host of local groups and artists.

Both from Mariupol, a city which has been "turned to ashes" by near constant bombing, Elena said many Ukrainians are suffering from PTSD as they attempt to settle in the UK.

However, she insisted the chance to perform gives the duo the chance to show solidarity with those fighting to defend their country.

She said: "It was a very good chance for us to promote Ukrainian culture, music, singing and dancing. That is very important for us because we cannot take up weapons, we cannot dig trenches or drive tanks - but we can sing and dance. For us, that is also a weapon, but it is a cultural weapon."

Olena's role was to introduce performers to the stage, and she prepared a short explanation for every song so those in the audience could understand its meaning.

"While we are here we are representatives of Ukraine, and English people can learn through us about our country," she added.

"What was so special about this event (in Whitchurch) is that it was ticketed, and more than 150 people paid good money to come and watch us perform. It was a real triumph and a great success.

"It was very important for us to show that we are not victims. This was a joint venture and not just a concert for Ukrainians."

Anna, a professional choreographer, said: "I was very happy as dancing brought all the memories back from Ukraine. Having people applauding you and appreciating your performance felt really good."

The ladies are currently preparing a performance called 'Ukraine undefeated' - a show which will include drama, singing, dancing and photo and video presentation. They're currently on the lookout for a venue in Winchester to host their creation.

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