Ukrainian food and culture took over Alton Rugby Club recently when Ukrainians now living in the town threw a huge thank-you party for around 100 of their hosts and other guests.
Four courses were cooked in traditional style by a team of Ukrainian women, and the event raised more than £3,500 for two charities working with injured and displaced people and pets in Ukraine.
The meal began with borscht – an autumnal beetroot soup – then tiny dumplings stuffed with mushrooms, pork, beef or cabbage to start, with meat rolls, stuffed cabbage, roast potatoes, a brilliant red beetroot salad or stuffed peppers for the main course, followed by cake complete with the Ukrainian flag, sweet cottage pie or fruit salad for dessert.
The Ukrainian team cooked and froze food for days at the club under the guidance of its chef Esther Kereti. Ukrainian dumplings are a labour of love and hundreds had to be made.
The hall was decked with bunting and flags, videos of Ukrainian countryside and architecture before the war were shown, and there were many moving speeches and songs about Ukraine and its people.
Lynette Reed said: “From the moment I stepped into the hall at the beginning of the evening and met the Ukrainian women I felt really emotional, and that sense of being overwhelmed and caught up with their lives didn’t stop all evening.
“It was a powerful and wonderful evening.”
Margaret Lockett added: “The atmosphere of the whole evening was lovely, very emotional when the Ukrainian women sang to us and presented their flag on a cake.
“The minute’s silence and their national anthem brought a tear to my eye.
“The auction went very well, people were very generous and Lisa Hillan did sterling work as the auctioneer and even managed to sell a beautifully- wrapped cabbage as a bit of fun for £30. It was lovely to see the outpouring of support for the women and the charities.”
Alton shops, individuals and businesses donated auction lots plus dozens of raffle prizes.
Hanna, who oversaw the menu and cooking, said: “Thanks a lot to the people of England for their help and support – they opened their big hearts to us Ukrainians. Being far from home, we decided we could help people who are now in Ukraine and really need our help. All of us thank you for the great work done, and we Ukrainians are very glad we can help our compatriots.
“Together we will win!”
Andrii Moroz said: “Awesome people, awesome mood and awesome food – what can be better?”
Caroline and David Rogers sponsor Lubov, who sang a heartfelt song. Caroline said: “Lubov has a beautiful singing voice. It was wonderful to see and hear her perform at the Ukrainian feast. My husband David and I felt very privileged to be able to witness her talent first hand. We gather she sings at family events back home in Ukraine. It has been an immense pleasure to welcome her into our family in Binsted.”
Lubov has joined the Rock Choir and now sings in English despite not being able to read or understand the lyrics.
Andy McCrum, who sponsors Oksana Zinchenko and her son Sasha, said: “It was an absolutely wonderful evening.
“Heart-warming, sad, emotional, really, really tasty food and great company. Thanks to all who made it happen.” Mark Rumsby, who with wife Ruth sponsors Tanya and Katya, said: “I was moved to tears by the last ‘thank you’ song the Ukrainian ladies sang.” Kirsty added: “A very heart-warming, memorable night.”
Biola Ameri, the evening’s compere and musical director, lives in Alton with her hosts Lisa and John Hillan. Her daughters Daniella and Gabriella, dressed in traditional wear, sang a song to great applause. Evalina, who attended with her mother Karina Yasalova, also sang beautifully.
Anna, who with her mother is moving to a different Alton host, said: “Hello to all British people. I want to say a big thank you for your support.”