Daria Zalamai, a refugee currently living in Chesterfield, was speaking at an event at the Peak Edge Hotel to support the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.Steve Perez, a chairman of Global Brands, Peak Edge Hotel and Casa Hotel, who organised the fundraiser said: “Daria’s speech was one of the most remarkable moments that evening. She told her story and a quarter of the room was in tears. It was one of the most emotional things I've ever heard in my life.”
Daria, 28, one of ten Ukrainian women receiving help from Mr Perez, came to Chesterfield on May 10, with her four-year-old daughter Maria and her friend. They are living together in an apartment offered by Mr Perez.
Mrs Zalamai said: “It's really difficult. My mother, grandmother and my husband - my love – who is in the army, are still in Ukraine. I'm afraid to think that I will never see them again.
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“I gave the speech because I wanted to let people know about the situation in Ukraine. They do not have basic things, sometimes not even a piece of bread. It’s really horrible and hard to understand how this has happened in the 21st century in the middle of Europe.”
Before the war started, Mrs Zalamai was living in Dnipro, in central Ukraine, with her husband and daughter.
After Russia attacked her country, her husband was taken to the army and she decided to flee, alongside a friend and her child.
While travelling with two young children they first got to Poznan, a city in western Poland. They received help and one of the organisations offered them a stay in Majorca. But after moving there, they found jobs almost impossible to find.
They looked for places in England that are hosting refugees from Ukraine and came into contact with Mr Perez and his wife who decided to host Mrs Zalamai and her friend, also called Daria, in one of their apartments.
Mr Perez said: “We are delighted to have them here and be able to help. The Ukrainians are so similar to us, British people. We have a slight language difference, but we like the same music, we have the same values, we are both hardworking nations, value families, like animals.
“That terrible thing has happened to them suddenly. It could have easily happened to us. And we have to do what we can at the moment to help the Ukrainians push Russia back and to support the refugees.”
After arriving in the UK, both Mrs Zalamai and her friend began working part-time as waitresses at Mr Perez’s hotel. Her four-year-old daughter Maria has started school and is learning English and making new friends.
Mrs Zalamai said: “We are really happy to be here because here we are safe. We are trying to build a new life and think less about all these difficult events. We are really grateful to Steve and his wife because they gave us a job and apartment and helped with documents. We have everything that we need right now.
“It is so beautiful in Chesterfield and my daughter likes going to the parks with me. I'm really surprised that people are so kind here. The council helped a lot and Angie, Steve’s wife, has been supporting us all the way, helping to understand and fill in the documents.”
Mr Perez is also supporting a three generation Ukrainian family - a grandmother, mother and three sisters. He has provided them with the apartments and with waitress and receptionist jobs at his hotels - the Peak Edge and Casa Hotel.
Mr Perez said: “I don’t understand why someone would try to take over another country’s land, destroy cities and lives. I'm a relatively old man and I've lived in peace all my life. I'm very lucky. I want young people and future generations to have the same peaceful life as I've had.
“That’s why we need to support Ukraine. Ukraine is fighting for the entire Europe, fighting for the future and security for our kids. And history has shown us what could happen if we don’t stop Putin and his ambitions now.”
While Mr Perez thinks military support and sanctions are most efficient ways to support Ukraine, he hopes that local events like his fundraiser will support individuals affected by the war.
The event which included a three-course meal, live entertainment, a silent auction and appearance from special guest chef Marco Pierre White, raised £17,000 for the charity.
He said: “£17 000 from our fundraiser will not stop the war. It can help buy some medicine, clothes and food. But what is very important, it raises awareness, it shows solidarity. The event has shown how much empathy and sympathy people have and that Chesterfield stands with the Ukrainian refugees.
“People in this town are very welcoming. Lots of businesses and individuals support the refugees. I'm very, very proud to be part of a Chesterfield community.”