'I'm no hero': Former homeless man in Skegness organises fundraisers to help Ukraine refugees

A young refugee who fled the Ukraine with six kittens smiles in the safety of her family's home after arriving in Spain.

Karina Bocharova, 19, owes her life and that of her precious cargo to a Skegness man who is raising money to help people like her displaced because of the conflict with Russia,

Ian Russell is organising music events to raise funds to help more refugees like her - and he knows more than most what it is like to suddenly find yourself with nothing.

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Homeless when he arrived in the resort where he grew up, he spent months living in a tent on the beach until Outreach came along and negotiated a place at Witham Lodge.

Ian Russell is organising fundraisers to help refugees in the Ukraine.

Now living in supported housing run by the MySpace charity he wants to give something back.

"People call me a hero but I'm not," he said. "What I went through is nothing compared to what the refugees fleeing the Ukraine are going through.

"I'm organising music events as a way of saying 'thank you' for the help I received when I was homeless."

Ian ended up on the beach in a tent at the start of lockdown. Before the Covid-19 pandemic he ran Scorpio Promotions, organising tours for up-and-coming artists in Europe.

Singer Ira Lobanok, 21, decided not to leave the Ukraine and took up arms to fight for her country.

"I had been a tour manager for up-and-coming bands in Germany when the pandemic saw borders start to close," he explained.

"I managed to get one of the last flights before lockdown and arrived back at Skegness with just £50 in my pocket.

"I has to make the difficult decision of whether to book into a B&B and use all my cash or buy a cheap tent, live on the beach and be able to buy food.

"Because of lockdown and because I had been working and not in receipt of benefits that put me in the system, I ended up on the beach until Ooutreach contacted the local authority and said if this man (me) doesn't get accommodation soon he will die.

Ukraine singer Ira Lobanok, 21.

"That's when I was taken in at Witham Lodge and now I am in supported accommodation in Skegness.

"It's not where I want to be but at the moment Covid-19 is still impacted the work I did.

"That is why I am using my talents to organise the fundraisers for the Ukraine."

The main charity Ian is supporting is the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal DEC. He is also supporting Fluchtlingshilfe UKRAINE.

The shelter where Karina, 19, was living with her kittens before Ian Russell arranged for her to fly to family in Spain, thanks to his music fundraisers.

"I chose these charities because people can see where the money is going," explained Ian. "I have some lovely stories where we have helped refugees escape Ukraine."

Ian came across Karina when she posted on the Facebook page Helping Ukraine (Hungary) page asking for help to travel to family in Spain with her six kittens.

"I had a friend in Hungary who was able to make contact and I was able to find an airline offering her a discounted flight with her kittens.

"Seeing the picture of her and her kittens at her family's home in Spain is what my campaign is about.

"So many charities are helping refugees but when you make a donation you don't see where the money is going.

"I think it is nice to be able to tell people real stories about how they have helped people."

The tickets arranged for Karina and her kittens.

Some of the stories are more heart rendering.

Singer Ira Lobanok, 21, has been keeping in touch with Ian since she made the brave decision not to flee the country but to take up arms and fight for the country.

"She should be doing gigs but instead she is fighting for her country," said Ian. "Because she is female she could have left the Ukraine but she chose to learn how to fire a rifle and is staying to fight for her country.

"I have offered to help her but she says all she needs is for me to raise more money to help the refugees and to spread the word about what is happening.

"I message her regularly to check she is all right - all I can do is carry on with my events."

Her YouTube cover singing Adele's 'Hello from the other side' was played at a fundraiser at the Seaview pub on Friday night.

A Bowie tribute fundraiser was held at the Vine Hotel in Chapel St Leonards on Saturday night.

The weekend raised £630, bringing the total to £1,637.08.

Artists have given their time free and there has been no charge by the venues, so all the funding has gone to the charities.

Ian said: "I am so grateful to everyone who has given their support. The money they donate is helping people affected by the conflict in the Ukraine.

"I'm just pleased to be able to help in a small way."

The next event is on Friday, April 22, at Artisan Coffee Design in Skegness, where there will be an evening of family entertainment including a magician and food, starting at 6pm. There will also be an auction of art.

The kittens that travelled in a small cage from the Ukraine to a 19-year-old girl's family in Spain.
Karina Bocharova with her kittens after arriving safely at her family's home in Spain.
The Bowie Contingent performing at the Vine Hotel on Saturday.