WHEN Olena woke up on February 24, she started getting ready for work as usual. Then, she received a call, confirming what she and her family and friends had long feared.

“My sister called me to say the war had started,” she said. “I opened my window and heard the sound of the sirens.”

Soon came the news from Kiev – Olena recalls hearing Russian forces had poured over the border and missiles were striking the capital and other major cities.

She and her family were forced to flee their home, in a north-eastern Ukrainian town just 20 miles from Russia.

“It’s been difficult – we weren’t eating, we weren’t drinking,” she said. “It was very stressful.”

Olena and her children, Anastasia and Nikita, are now in Newport, where they have been taken in by a local sponsor and are safe from the horrors of the war.

The National Wales: Olena, Nikita and Anastasia fled their home in Ukraine after Russia invaded. Picture: Kamila JarczakOlena, Nikita and Anastasia fled their home in Ukraine after Russia invaded. Picture: Kamila Jarczak

Like many other Ukrainian people who fled the fighting, Olena’s family had to leave most of their clothes and belongings behind when they left their homes.

But a new “shop” in Newport is providing vital support to Olena and other refugees who arrive in Wales. Unlike a typical store, however, this one doesn’t require any payment – the idea being that everyone who turns up and can show their visa and passport can choose clothes, toiletries and other essentials to get them through these vital first few weeks in their new homes.

It has been set up by Gosia Sliwinska and Kamila Jarczak, who made national headlines in the early weeks of the war when their collection appeal won huge backing from the community.

Initially set up to send crucial supplies to Ukraine and neighbouring countries like Poland, which have welcomed the majority of refugees, their campaign has shown no sign of slowing down over the past four months, and now they are making sure the people who arrive in Newport and the surrounding area have as much support as possible.

The National Wales: Inside the new 'shop' in Newport's Kingsway Centre. Picture: Kamila JarczakInside the new 'shop' in Newport's Kingsway Centre. Picture: Kamila Jarczak

Crucially, the new shop isn’t just a place for people to pick up clothes – it has also become a hub for Ukrainians to meet and forge new friendships, building on the wider work the organisers are planning for the months ahead.

“Here [everyone] is very helpful,” Olena said. “We’ve spoken to other Ukrainians, made some new friends and we are helping each other.”

After an extremely busy four months, organiser Ms Jarczak, from the Women of Newport group, said work to support Ukrainians “is not a sprint, it’s a marathon”.

“These things you’ve heard show why it’s important to continue,” she added. “It’s gives us a boost and the energy to continue. It has completely changed our lives.”

Helen Oliver, from Cwmbran, is the new manager of the “shop” in the Kingsway Centre. She praised the volunteers who have worked on the campaign since February.

The National Wales: Volunteers (L-R) Judith Broadribb, Julia Murray, Rosie Thomas and Helen Oliver.Volunteers (L-R) Judith Broadribb, Julia Murray, Rosie Thomas and Helen Oliver.

“I’ve never met so many amazing people,” she said. “Kamila and Gosia deserve a medal. I don’t think they had any idea what they were letting themselves in for.”

Colin Rees, the manager of the Kingsway Centre, said he was “glad to have this here helping the people of Ukraine, and we’ll support them as much as we can”.

Women of Newport are still accepting donations for their campaign and are currently looking for summer clothes. For more information and to find out how you can donate, visit the group’s Facebook page