Thousands of tickets for the Eurovision Song Contest will be allocated to displaced Ukrainians living in the UK.
The competition will take place at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool in May after the city was chosen to host the competition on behalf of 2022 winners Ukraine because of the Russian invasion.
As part of the UK’s commitment to honour Ukraine at the song contest, around 3,000 tickets will be made available so those forced from the country can attend the live shows.
The UK government has also announced £10m in funding to “help ensure the event truly showcases Ukrainian culture” on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of the country.
The money will support Liverpool City Council and the BBC’s partnerships with Ukrainian artists and performers to create a show “celebrating music and how it unites people from around the world”.
It will also support security and visa arrangements, as well as other operational aspects of the contest, and Liverpool City Council’s schools, community and volunteering programmes.
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said: “Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine means the contest cannot be held where it should be.
“But we are honoured to be supporting the BBC and Liverpool in hosting it on their behalf, and are determined to make sure the Ukrainian people are at the heart of this event.”
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Ukrainian refugees in Liverpool celebrated after the city beat Glasgow to host the contest
Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, added: “The UK’s steadfast support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion has been exemplary and this gesture is another example of that commitment.
“We are grateful to the UK Government, Liverpool City Council, and the BBC for their efforts to honour Ukraine’s culture and people through this event.”
The Mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, said that Ukraine will be “at the heart” of all of the city’s Eurovision plans.
She added: “We’re delighted with the news that displaced Ukrainians are being given the opportunity to come to the city in May – this is their Eurovision after all.”
Ukrainian folk-rap group Kalush Orchestra, who were triumphant at last year’s competition in Turin, Italy, will perform during the show as part of the tributes to the country.
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Ukrainian broadcaster Timur Miroshnychenko, who has commentated on Eurovision in Ukraine since 2007, will also appear during the live shows to give insight from Ukraine’s commentary box in the arena.
This announcement comes on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion which forced millions of Ukrainians from their homes, with many finding refuge in the UK.
Those who are based in the UK through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, the Ukraine Family Scheme and the Ukraine Extension Scheme will be able to apply for tickets for the song contest.
Tickets for displaced Ukrainians have been subsided by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, with a £20 charge to be applied to each sale.
Spaces will be offered for all nine live shows, including the semi-finals, the preview shows and the live final on 13 May.
Nine months after arriving in the UK, Ukrainian refugee Anfisa Vlasova is searching for somewhere to spend the night.
“I’m just trying to move on and survive,” she says.
Britain opened its doors to Ukrainian refugees on visa schemes last spring.
Now it’s a cold, drab day in early February and Anfisa is facing the unthinkable – she is homeless.
Anfisa has been desperately ringing around charities, the local council and anyone she knows trying to find a place to stay for the night. There’s disappointment after disappointment.
But her search for somewhere suitable is complicated by the fact that Anfisa has four dogs who’ve travelled thousands of miles with her from a war zone. And she refuses to be separated from them.
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Hugging each of her mini Yorkshire terriers Betsy, Nora, Daisy and Teddy it’s obvious just how much they mean to her.
Anfisa says: “They are my emotional support. I already lost everything in the war.”
We’re in Bracknell in Berkshire and it’s getting dark.
There is an 11th-hour solution available – she could go to a bed and breakfast provided by the local authority. But her dogs would have to be put into kennels, which Anfisa isn’t prepared to let happen.
Anfisa appears to have run out of options when help comes from an unexpected quarter.
Also looking for accommodation she meets some of Bracknell’s homeless community who take her to a local church.
The House of God wasn’t where she was expecting to spend the night.
“I’m so tired and exhausted because all day just running, calling, searching. So at least I got a roof and it’s warm and I got a meal and my dogs are with me,” she says.
Anfisa, who promoted cosmetics in Ukraine, was displaced twice in her home country first from Donetsk in 2014, then she fled from Kharkiv as it was being shelled last year.
She describes the way she’s now living hand-to-mouth as “deja vu”.
Anfisa came to the UK last May to live with a British family on the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
She then went to a second host – an elderly man who Anfisa says wanted her to be his carer and companion.
She’s also stayed in an apartment provided by the council and a bed and breakfast.
She’s still looking for a permanent home for herself and her dogs.
But whilst Anfisa’s situation is unusual the number of Ukrainian refugees needing help with housing is rapidly rising.
The latest figures show 161,400 refugees are in the UK on visa schemes following the Russian invasion of their country a year ago.
Whilst 46,900 Ukrainians came to stay with family members, most travelled on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme which required British hosts to take refugees in for a minimum of six months.
Available data analysed by Sky News shows 4,295 Ukrainian households are now turning to local councils for somewhere to live after their placements on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme ended.
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Not all local authorities have provided figures and with councils only tracking ‘households’ not people within a household, the actual number will be even higher.
There has been no data collected on Ukrainians who came as part of the Family Visa Scheme.
With no end to the war in sight – most of the Ukrainian refugees we’ve spoken to are parting on good terms from their hosts but now want some independence and a place of their own.
But for most it’s proving difficult.
Tatiana Miller, Ukraine Response Coordinator at Refugee Support in Reading, says housing is the biggest issue for the people she sees.
She says half of the Ukrainians at the support group will need new accommodation in the next month or two – and renting is proving very difficult.
She says: “The main message is we need compassionate landlords and we need local authorities to work with estate agents to accommodate that.
“The time has come when they (the refugees) need their space back.
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“But for Ukrainian people to look for alternative accommodation that means they need to rent and to rent they need a job or have a credit history.
“And Ukrainians don’t have the amount of salary that’s expected.”
Former history teacher Kateryna Korniienko clearly gets on well with her hosts Fiona and Richard Marston who took Kateryna and her two children in on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
She says: “It’s a very good place for us, but it’s not our house, it’s not our property, so every time I remember that I’m just a guest here and I should be polite. I want to keep their life the same as what it was before.”
Whilst Kateryna’s husband Andrew is still in Odesa, Kateryna has started working in Berkshire as a teaching assistant and her children are at a local school.
In Ukraine, Kateryna was a lecturer and history teacher but Fiona says her guest’s qualifications aren’t recognised in the UK – part of the reason why Fiona is keen to help Kateryna move on by standing as a financial guarantor on a rental property.
Fiona said: “I think for all of us we don’t want to go on like this forever.
“But for us, it’s more ‘what does Kate want?’
“So my understanding is that what Kate wants is as normal a family life as she can have. And so for her, that means living independently.
“There is that balance, isn’t there, that we can suddenly not have to worry about when our family comes to stay. But yes I’ll miss them.”
But Anfisa Vlasova – who spent a night in a church with her four mini Yorkshire terriers – hasn’t found the breakthrough she’s looking for.
Since we last met she’s had several nights sleeping rough.
She shares photographs with us of the tent she shared with her dogs.
When temperatures plummeted she was offered a place in a hotel but her pets would have had to go into kennels – which she refused.
Anifsa told us before she became homeless she had been offered accommodation by the council for her and her pets – but she turned it down as unsuitable.
In one case she said it was because it was a room with a family who had a cat.
She said: “I just want to hide, you know? Under my blanket, closing my eyes, imagining I’m at home, in my bed, in my flat and I’m just hiding under the blanket at the place which I feel is my own space.
“Since I came here, just I had six months of quite peaceful life with my host family and I am really very appreciative to those people but later on, it’s a nightmare.”
Ukrainians celebrating their first Christmas in the UK are writing letters to Santa Claus and planning traditional meals – but their thoughts are also with loved ones still inside the devastated country.
Kateryna Chebizhak, 34, works as a telephone interpreter, and she arrived from Kyiv with her seven-year-old son Kolya in April, via Poland and Germany.
She said Christmas in Ukraine is on 7 January, as determined by the Orthodox Church, but her son is looking forward to getting his presents a bit earlier this year.
“Usually in Ukraine, we just get presents under the Christmas Tree in the New Year, but [in the UK] it works differently”, she said.
“Now’s he’s waiting for his two presents, and he’s really excited.
“As it is the school holidays, he has been writing letters to Santa Claus.”
The pair will spend the day with friends in Enfield, north London, exchanging presents, going for a walk, doing art and craft activities and playing a card game.
Ms Chebizhak said her parents remain in Ukraine, adding: “Usually we have traditions where my mum (Tetiana) will always make 12 dishes which symbolise the 12 months of the year, and we would make a wish on Christmas Eve and go to bed, and it should come true.
“My sister Anna also used to live not too far from them, and she also left to go to Greece with her two children, so they are alone, and she doesn’t have any grandchildren nearby,” she added.
“My mum and dad might sit down together and watch some movies or listen to the national anthem of Ukraine, and we’ll have a call, but they are coping and doing great, despite it not being a good situation.”
Ms Chebizhak said she dreams of peace in Ukraine and hopes to return to see Kolya’s father “as he misses him very much”.
Meanwhile, she is concentrating on her dream of becoming a fully-qualified interpreter, thanks to donations made through a crowdfunder set up by platform Beam.
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‘We will always remember the help of UK’
Olha Komarnytska lives in Birmingham with her children – Mia, 15, and Volodymyr, 13 – having arrived from western Ukraine in May.
“We usually celebrate Christmas in January, but I think a lot of Ukrainians will celebrate Christmas in December this year because Russians celebrate Christmas in January, and it’s not very good for us because we are fighting with Russia,” the 42-year-old cleaner said.
She said they would go to church together on 25 December before sitting down to a Christmas dinner with a combination of British and Ukrainian dishes.
“I plan to make cabbage with rice, meat carrot and onions and a Ukrainian salad with potato, carrot, meat, onions and cucumber,” she added.
But several people will not be with them – Mrs Komarnytska’s husband, parents and two brothers are still in Ukraine.
“It’s not good, we are not happy – but the situation is very bad because of the war happening in Ukraine and there is a bad situation with electricity where many don’t have any,” she said.
“I think next Christmas we will celebrate in Ukraine, but we will always remember how lovely and helpful those in the UK have been to Ukrainians.”
A group of 90 Ukrainian judges will undergo training, provided by the UK, to carry out war crimes trials for Russian soldiers.
The first group of judges attended sessions at a secret location in the region last week, and more will follow in the coming months, as part of a £2.5m investment.
In her first broadcast interview as Attorney General, Victoria Prentis told Sky News it would ensure perpetrators of atrocities can – at an unprecedented scale – be prosecuted while the conflict goes on.
The vast majority of war crimes trials are expected to be carried out in the country by Ukrainian judges.
So far, 14 Russian soldiers have been convicted, with the first trial carried out in May.
But a vast caseload of more than 43,000 reported crimes have already been registered.
“They are prosecuting war crimes in real time”, Ms Prentis said. “This is a live and very brutal conflict.
“Ukraine is managing with all the difficulties that we know are going on in the country at the moment, with things like power and organising courts, to try war crimes.
“This is very important, obviously because justice is important, but also because I hope that those Russian soldiers and officers who are watching the Ukrainian prosecutions at the moment will realise that they must act in accordance with international law.
“These 90 judges will go back after some really intensive training, able better to run those courts.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenkyy and his wife Olena, who visited the UK this month, have been advocating for the establishment of a special tribunal for Ukraine, which they have compared to the Nuremberg trials, for the Russian leadership.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague has already opened an investigation into the Ukraine war – but the Zelenskyys say a special tribunal alongside it could prosecute a wider range of crimes.
This has not been explicitly backed by the UK government, but Ms Prentis said all options are being considered, in discussions with the Ukrainian authorities.
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“I’m sure that the vast majority of these war crimes will be tried by Ukrainian judges in Ukraine, where the witnesses and the evidence are,” she said.
“But I’m also sure the international community will want to have a moment where justice is done, and seen to be done. We don’t yet know exactly what form that will take. All options are on the table.”
In her long career as a government lawyer before entering politics, Ms Prentis said: “I don’t think we ever anticipated we would have war crimes in Europe again and that we would have to start talking about Nuremberg-style trials.”
The judges’ training is run by Sir Howard Morrison, a British judge who worked at the International Criminal Court and on the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
He spoke to Sky News on his return from the region after the first three-day session.
Sky News teams have witnessed the work of mobile justice teams in the country, such as in Makariv, outside Kyiv, where officials say 130 bodies were found in April.
Sir Howard said: “War crimes bring an added dimension, particularly when you have mass graves.
“I’ve spent 25 years staring either literally or metaphorically into mass graves, and believe me it’s a very different exercise than a single body or a single victim.
“They [judges] are very much aware of the necessity to run these trials in accordance with internationally recognised standards.”
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Sir Howard was the judge at the trial of former Bosnian leader Radovan Karadzic and said it was the hope senior Russian leaders could eventually be put on trial – but it would take time and commitment.
He said: “I was told when I was at the ICT [tribunal for the former Yugoslavia], that we would never try Milosevic, Karadzic or Mladic, and we tried all three.
“So you don’t know how the political winds will change direction in the future. It may be a long, slow process, but you cannot entirely rule out the Russians, senior Russians, in politics or in the military could one day come before an international tribunal.”
Ukraine’s first lady has accused Russian forces of using rape as a weapon of war in her country as she called for a “global response”.
Olena Zelenska also claimed the wives of Russian servicemen encouraged them to rape Ukrainian women.
The 44-year-old was speaking in London at an international conference to tackle sexual violence during conflicts.
Ms Zelenska, who is married to president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, 44, talked about sexual violence being perpetrated “systematically and openly” by the invaders as the war in her nation drags on since the Russian offensive began in February.
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“Sexual violence is the most cruel, most animalistic way to prove mastership over someone. And for victims of this kind of violence, it is difficult to testify in war times because nobody feels safe”, she said.
“This is another instrument that they (Russian forces) are using as their weaponry. This is another weapon in their arsenal in this war and conflict. That’s why they’re using this systematically and openly.”
Ms Zelenska said it was “extremely important to recognise this as a war crime and to hold all of the perpetrators accountable”.
‘Russian troops talk to their relatives about rapes’
“We see that the Russian servicemen are very open about this: they talk about it over the phone with their relatives, from phone conversations we’ve managed to capture.
“In fact, the wives of Russian servicemen encourage this, they say, ‘Go on, rape those Ukrainian women, just don’t share this with me, just don’t tell me’.
“This is why there has to be a global response to this.”
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Ukrainian women describe rape ordeal
Last week, an international criminal lawyer helping Kyiv’s war crimes investigations claimed there was evidence that Russian commanders were aware of sexual violence by military personnel in Ukraine “and in some cases, (were) encouraging it or even ordering it”.
Wayne Jordash said in areas around the capital, some of the sexual violence involved a level of organisation by Russian armed forces that “speaks to planning on a more systematic level”.
He did not identify particular individuals under scrutiny.
A UN-backed report published last month said victims of alleged attacks ranged in age from four to over 80, and in some cases family members witnessed rape.
A Russian soldier in March repeatedly sexually abused a girl and threatened to kill family members in northern Ukraine’s Chernihiv region, according to a ruling at Chernihiv district court.
The court this month found 31-year old Ruslan Kuliyev and another Russian soldier under his command guilty of war crimes in absentia for assault on locals, the ruling added.
Sir Rod Stewart has revealed he has rented and furnished a home for a family of seven Ukrainian refugees after feeling heartbroken watching the war against Russia unfold on the news.
“Words couldn’t describe what we were watching,” Sir Rod told the Daily Mirror.
“The bombing of innocent children, the bombing of hospitals and playgrounds. Like everyone else, we were completely beside ourselves. I don’t wish that on anyone. This is evil, pure evil.”
Sir Rod is now providing support to Ukrainian couple Rostylsav and Olena and their five children aged between 17 and two, paying rent and bills for the Berkshire property for at least a year, according to the newspaper.
The family, who arrived in the UK without speaking any English, are “lovely… so polite” and “all very grateful”, Sir Rod said.
The star said he wanted to use his “power” as a knight to help others.
“I usually keep all my charitable efforts nice and quiet and just do it. But I thought, ‘I am a knight, I have been given this knighthood because of the things I’ve achieved in my life and the charity work I’ve done over the years’.
“But that was the past; I want to be seen to be doing something now. I am a knight, I should be using my power to do something for people.
“I am sure that if there are people out there who see what I am doing, they will pick up some slack too.”
The singer also hired three trucks filled with supplies for refugees and had them driven to Ukraine, before using the same vehicles to transport 16 people back to safety in Berlin.
He was later put in contact with Rostyslav and his family, as well as others who he has since given jobs to.
In a statement Olena and Rostyslav said: “Many thanks to Sir Rod Stewart, Warren Cady, his parents and their family for their openness and genuine and big hearts. Thanks to their sponsorship and Warren’s hard work, our children are now safe and able to learn normally in school.”
Sir Rod kicks off a string of UK arena dates next month, playing in Nottingham, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Belfast, London, Birmingham and Manchester.
He told The Mirror that he plans to address the conflict in Ukraine as part of the tour, dedicating shows to the country and its people.