Zhenya 1

Ukrainian refugee learns new skills thanks to sewing charity

A Ukrainian refugee was able to connect with the local community and join fellow refugees in learning new skills thanks to the efforts of a Cambridge sewing charity, supported by The National Lottery.

Zhenya Nekrasova, 26, moved to Cambridgeshire in April 2022, away from her family and friends in Zaporizhzhya amid the ongoing conflict in her home country.

Initially struggling with separation from her family and knowing no one in the local community, Nekrasova discovered Sew Positive after meeting charity founder Melissa Santiago-Val.

Nekrasova was offered the opportunity to volunteer with Sew Positive and gain new skills, something that has proven a huge help to her personally over the past year.

She said: “The most important thing I realise now is that it gave me a sense of purpose, especially with the local Ukrainian community. It’s an immense help mentally, you feel like you are doing something and connecting to people of your own culture.

“It is a great distraction too. Most of the people participating and volunteering are from the east of Ukraine, but we hardly speak about war there and it is nice. We just feel mutual support while we are learning new skills. 

“Before masterclasses I did not know I could sew or do embroidery, but Melissa has been so supportive. The supportive and non-judgemental atmosphere in the classes, everyone just feels great.”

More than forty-five community projects across the UK have shared over £300,000 of funding from The National Lottery Community Fund to help bring communities together to celebrate Eurovision and support the Ukrainian community here in the UK.

Sew Positive are among the charities who have benefitted, using the extra support they have received to run a special bunting project and host a Eurovision party for over one hundred refugees this weekend.

The National Lottery, who are one of the biggest supporters of music and culture in Liverpool, have invested over £330m in 3,600 arts and heritage projects to date. Liverpool’s historic hosting of Eurovision sees The National Lottery make further multi-million-pound contributions to arts, heritage and community across the city.

“That’s been the second project I was working on with Melissa, and it’s been so much fun,” added Nekrasova, who has recently relocated to Bristol but will remain connected to the charity. 

“Every bunting is a small project of your own and you do not have any boundaries, you can do whatever you want – you can learn how to sew in sewing machines, which makes all the processes faster, and is another new skill. 

“All the participants are really excited about the party we are going to host on Saturday, which is the result of all of the hard work!”

The project has proven an enormous success and has engaged many people across the Ukrainian community within Cambridge, with founder Santiago-Val thrilled with the impact Sew Positive has made.

She commented: “Loneliness and social isolation are major factors and of course people have had to leave their homes and flee. We are dealing with such a wide range of people, some don’t have any English language skills, so to be able to come together within many generations is special.

“A lot of people have sewing skills as well actually so they can pass them on within their own community, which is important for them.

“The grant has been invaluable. We are a small charity so we can’t put on any of these events without funding from The National Lottery.

“We’re so grateful to be able to access this funding so quickly as well because it only took a week to be approved – we could just get on with it!”

National Lottery players raise more than £30 million a week for arts, education, environment, health, heritage, sport, and voluntary projects across the UK; see the difference it’s making near you at

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