Ukrainian refugees plant an orchard with a Welsh community
Published: 31 Jan 2024
Our journey commenced last Autumn, when Andy King, Keep Wales Tidy’s Caerphilly representative, told me that Climate Action Caerffili would be welcome to apply for an orchard to plant at Morgan Jones Park (the orchard pack being part of their Local Places for Nature development packages, funded by the Welsh Government).
I had been busy conducting interviews with displaced Ukrainian young people, for my own research about the benefits of tree planting, such as legacy and establishing roots in a country.
Planting a tree, let alone an orchard, is an enduring gift. Trees are one of the most amazing things on this planet. They help combat climate change, improve air quality, reduce flooding, and nurture biodiversity. They are also vital for our physical and mental health.
Yulia Bond, organizer of a group called Ukrainians in Caerphilly and a former Green Party politician in Ukraine, had been facilitating my interviews with the young people. Yulia loved the idea of an orchard because it would be a lasting memory of their time in Caerphilly. The Ukrainian community chose Saturday, January 27, which was almost two years since the devastating invasion by Russian forces.
After an application process, and a site visit with Keep Wales Tidy’s Nathan Jones to check the viability of the site, we were granted 12 fruit trees, 320 native bulbs, 2 recycled plastic benches, 2 hedgehog boxes, 2 bug mansions, a fruit tree guide, tools, a wheelbarrow and a water butt!
Councillor Shayne Cook and Caerphilly County Council secured funding for the sign.
Ageliki Politis, a dedicated volunteer with extensive experience in environmental projects and valuable contacts, played a pivotal role to ensure it was ready. For example, due to the fast turnaround required for a January planting, most sign companies were unable to meet this deadline. Ageliki worked with her pre-established contacts to ensure it was!
Communicating via social media like WhatsApp group proved beneficial, as it allowed time for translation across various English proficiency levels. However, formal coordination with the Caerphilly Borough Council occurred through email, involving key figures such as Jamie Pritchard, the Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Simon Beacham, the Parks Team Manager, and local ward councillor Shayne Cook.
During an on-site meeting, a volunteer, the Parks Manager and myself identified a suitable location for the orchard. It would be on a flat, well-lit shelf on a hillock, near to Tiny Forest Caerphilly. Then, everyone involved collaborated to design the layout of the orchard. We opted for a natural, organic, and "unregimented" design, behind a sea of bulbs and the beautiful sign.
We're all so proud of this sign, which was a real joint effort: the Ukrainians decided what they wanted the sign to say, I designed it, and then the Council found funding to produce it.
I will always treasure being part of this inspiring journey that led to a Ukrainian Gratitude Orchard being planted in my home town of Caerphilly. For me, it showed the power of collaborative working and I have been humbled by the Ukrainian Community’s capacity to work together as one, pooling resources and ensuring that many hands make light work.
Here are some quotes about planting day, from those who were there on the day:
“For Ukrainians, this event meant an opportunity to express their gratitude not only with words but with something more substantial, which will bring pleasure to the Caerphilly community for many years - colourful flowers, trees in the park and their fruits. During the event, apple, cherry, and pear trees were planted by joint efforts. Each of the trees is now a family tree, because it was planted jointly by a Ukrainian and a Welsh family that provided asylum.”
Yulia Bond, Ukrainians in Caerphilly
“We are grateful to Wales for the shelter and love. We are happy to have met so many generous and caring people. Thanks to this event my family now have their own apple tree in a lovely park, hopefully it will grow into a juicy tree with strong Welsh roots! And we will always remember those who help us feel warm and calm in Wales!”
Lutaenko family, Ukrainians in Caerphilly
"Participation in Saturday's event is precisely about the pride of being Ukrainians: hardworking, brave, strong, creative, singing, open. The magical sounds of the bandura, the angelic voices of our girls, whose singing was picked up by the entire Ukrainian community, created a special atmosphere. The culmination of this festive mood was a Welsh song performed by the entire Ukrainian community. "Calon lan" is a pure heart. Something that both Ukrainians and Welsh people value much”.
Maryna, Ukrainians in Caerphilly
“This event was not about honouring Ukraine and Ukrainian culture, but on the contrary - the Welsh one!... the same rights to life, education, and work. This is a metaphorical low bow to Great Britain and Wales”.
Valeria, Ukrainians in Caerphilly
“There was a feeling of being connected to something bigger - to a history that will remain with you. And that's great, despite the terrible root cause of Ukrainians being here”.
Hanna, Ukrainians in Caerphilly
“It was a great honour for our family…Pleasantly impressed by Councillor Lindsay Whittle family's history of supporting the Ukrainian people for many years within the Ukrainian social club in Senghenydd. Sincere gratitude to the friends of Wales, to organizers of the event and Ukrainian friends”.
Irina, Polina, Anastasia: Ukrainians in Caerphilly
“Planting trees was a special event for our family. From the first time, we felt deep gratitude in our hearts and were finally able to express it "physically". My daughter went to first grade in Wales and planted her first tree also in Wales. We are writing our history together with Wales. Thanks for support!”.
"It was an honour to attend this event and help the Ukrainians plant the Gratitude Orchard. What incredibly brave and resilient people! It’s hard to imagine what they have been through and are still going through. Despite all that has happened, they remain indomitable and optimistic”.
Anna, Ukrainians in Caerphillly
"What was evident in the whole build – up before and after the event, was that this was a community-inspired initiative.
"For the Ukrainian community to be able to express themselves within a warm community in Caerphilly, was quite an emotional experience, I can tell you. We were able to join together to plant trees to mark this occasion positively.
Terry Gordon, Climate Action Caerffili Gweithredu Hinsawdd
"As a council, we encourage this type of community-based approach, allowing people of all backgrounds to forge connections and enjoy the many benefits of trees and nature. This will also help us reach Welsh Government's 86 million tree target to achieve Net Zero by 2050."
Counsellor James Pritchard