A Ukrainian woman who collapsed weeping when she heard Russia has invaded felt compelled to rent a van and drive across Europe to the war-torn country to help.

Alina Skuba, who has lived in Oxfordshire since 2020, has an Ukrainian mum and British stepdad.

She moved to Oxfordshire two years ago and founded her own yoga studio in Witney.

She said: "I ended up finishing school in Ukraine, and then went to the University of Essex, when I moved to the UK at the age of 18. My brother and all extended family all live in Ukraine.

"I even took my whole running club there in 2018 where we did a full marathon together. They all fell in love with Ukraine, and we were planning to make another trip there after the pandemic. Little did we know… "

Alina fulfilled a decade-long dream when she opened Yogalina Wellness Studio in Corn Street at the end of 2021 as "I really think that yoga can be an invaluable tool for any person".

However, while she was preparing for the opening, there were reports suggesting that Russia was about to invade.

She said: "This made me very anxious and worried, but I still wouldn’t believe that the full invasion would even be possible. I thought surely it's not sensible, plausible or even possible?"

But her stomach dropped on the morning of February 24 when she read the headlines.

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"I remember I felt sick in my stomach. I went to the bathroom to wash my face and ended up weeping on the floor uncontrollably. It felt like hell.

"I then started calling my brother, family and friends who mostly live in Kyiv. They all were woken up by massive explosions and were terrified beyond belief.

"I didn't go to work that day. I felt powerless, I still hoped that it would end that day."

But it didn't. And desperately worried Alina resolved to drive nearly 2,000 miles and 34 hours to Ukraine to offer help.

"One week into the war I was finding out from my family and friends that there were shortages of food, medication, baby food. I decided to rent a truck and take supplies myself to a proven source I had in Kharkiv that needed it urgently."

She received so many donations and so much help to support her mission she was able to fill two trucks in under a fortnight.

Alina said: "The amazing Witney community helped to load not one but two large vans in less than two weeks and off I went to the Polish/Ukrainian border.

"The trip was long - emotional and exhausting - but rewarding. I met so many other volunteers from Germany, UK, Austria taking humanitarian aid to Ukraine too.

"On the way to the border I saw a lot of military machinery heading towards Ukraine. It was becoming real, scary and as if you are in a film.

Witney Gazette:

"When I finally arrived at the border, my Ukrainian contact Igor was already waiting for me to unload the van. He was an amazing human, very strong and patriotic.

"After we unloaded the van, Igor started telling me and a lot of other volunteers from all over Europe a patriotic poem about Ukraine and their struggles with Russia that had prevailed for centuries.

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"The majority of the volunteers listening to this poem did not speak any Ukrainian, but we all were weeping and weeping and weeping as it was told from the bottom of Igor's heart.

"This experience I will never forget, it will stay in my heart for ever."

Already, Alina has helped bring six families to safety in Oxfordshire.

She said: "Helping Ukraine has given me a sense of purpose and in a way, distraction from the horror.

"All I want is for this war to stop and for people to return to their loved ones and live in a safe place, just like we do.

"There's been a tremendeous amount of support from Witney and the whole of Oxfordshire in terms of donations, hosting families and organised support. It melts my heart.

"It's an awful situation, albeit that's it brought so much goodness and kindness out of people and I am forever grateful to every single one of you."


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