On Wednesday, 30 November, the Ukrainian Welcome Centre was officially opened by His Majesty King Charles III alongside the First Lady of Ukraine, Mrs Olena Zelenska.
The centre, based at the Eparchy’s cathedral, was set up to provide guidance and assistance to temporarily displaced Ukrainians.
King Charles was presented with an icon drawn on a munitions box, a gift from His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The icon of Our Lady of Tenderness was ‘written’, painted, by Oleksandr Klymenko and Sofiia Atlantova – Ukrainian iconographers who founded a charity project called “Icons on munitions boxes”.
Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, Eparch, or bishop, of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London, spoke to us shortly after the visit, and explained the significance of the day:
“I think that the support of His Majesty is very important for people here, both British citizens, newly-arrived Ukrainians, and it also gives a very strong message to the people in Ukraine that they have the support of the people of the United Kingdom.
Bishop Nowakowski also expressed his gratitude to Mrs Zelenska for visiting the community:
“For the Ukrainians that were here at our Welcome Centre today, to be able to have this visit of the First Lady, knowing that she hasn’t – and Ukraine hasn’t – forgotten about those that have had to flee, and showing her compassion, was a very important thing.
“Her gentleness and her kind words to the people, being able to speak to them in their own language was very, very reassuring and heart-warming.”
Bishop Nowakowski said that during the visit, he was able to explain to King Charles how the Ukrainian Welcome Centre is helping Ukrainians displaced by the war:
“I was able to talk to him about our church community here, our Cathedral community, and also introduce him to our Cathedral staff, which I think was important…
“One of the touching moments was when His Majesty was talking to some of these young mothers with their children and the expressions on the children’s faces. They maybe didn’t recognise who His Majesty was but they knew that people were paying attention to them and it was a wonderful experience.
“Others were just overwhelmed by the fact that they woke up this morning and they had no idea that today they would be meeting the First Lady and His Majesty the King. A lot of people were showing their emotions at being greeted both by His Majesty and the First Lady of Ukraine.”
You can view a full album of photos on our Flickr channel.