Discovering Resilience Through The Power of Physical Activity and Sport - One Ukrainian Refugee’s Heartwarming Story

Edinburgh Leisure | Saturday 24th February 2024 0:05am

Discovering Resilience Through The Power of Physical Activity and Sport - One Ukrainian Refugee’s Heartwarming Story

Two years on since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, a Ukrainian woman has expressed her ‘enormous thanks’ to Edinburgh Leisure for a leisure pass which has proved a lifeline for her and her family.

Fleeing from the war in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Maryna Ivanova, a Ukrainian refugee who arrived in Edinburgh on 25th April 2022, with her two 7-year-old twins, Sasha and Kit, has had support to access Edinburgh Leisure facilities as part of the Relocated People Access Programme (RPAP). Maryna shared some feedback with Edinburgh Leisure saying: ‘I cannot emphasise enough how significant this opportunity has been for us.  I believe that this has been pivotal in preventing me from succumbing to depression.”

Phil Trodden, Active Communities Development Officer at Edinburgh Leisure explained: “Making a positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing is at the heart of what Edinburgh Leisure does.  In 2018, the Relocated People Access Programme was created by Edinburgh Leisure in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council’s Refugee and Migration team to support relocated individuals new to Edinburgh. Fast forward to 2022 and the programme had to quickly respond to the Ukrainian Refugee crisis and, since then has been making a substantial impact on the lives of those seeking refuge in Edinburgh.

“Since April 2022, the Relocated People Access Programme has been working together with the City of Edinburgh Council’s Refugee and Migration team and Welcome Hubs, providing valuable information on how to access Edinburgh Leisure activities.  We were so touched that Maryna reached out to Edinburgh Leisure to thank us for the contribution it has had to her and her family’s mental and physical well-being and quality of life. This is just one of the ways that Edinburgh Leisure’s Active Communities team is helping people overcome the barriers to being and staying active and enabling more people to enjoy the life-changing benefits of an active life."

In recognition of the high numbers of refugees accessing Edinburgh Leisure services and the contribution the programme was making to the refugees’ wellbeing, the City of Edinburgh Council awarded Edinburgh Leisure £100,000 for the programme in 2022-23 and 2023-24.

Since April 2023, Edinburgh Leisure has supported 1,192 refugees to be active and there have been 19,502 visits to Edinburgh Leisure activities e.g. gym, swimming, fitness classes, and coached activities, including tennis, gymnastics, climbing, trampolining, and diving.

Referral rates peaked in 2022 and have now reduced to around 50 participants per month, mirroring the changing refugee population in the city. 

Maryna Ivanova wrote to Edinburgh Leisure saying: “Over the past one and a half years, my family and I have been recipients of the privileges granted by Edinburgh Leisure, and I cannot emphasize enough how significant this opportunity has been for us.

“Before the war, both my children, my husband, and I were regular attendees at a sports complex in Kharkiv, engaging in various sports activities almost daily.

“When the war forced us to flee to Scotland, seeking refuge and safety for our children, the initial weeks and even months were filled with a sense of disorientation. Everything was new and unfamiliar, there was a lack of employment opportunities, and the overall situation was both challenging and frightening, especially considering my pregnancy. It was at this critical juncture that we received our Edinburgh Leisure membership card.

“We immediately utilized the facilities, heading to the gym and swimming pools. I believe that this decision played a pivotal role in preventing me from succumbing to depression. The routine of morning exercises brought me back to a more balanced perception of reality and fuelled my determination to overcome adversity.

“Every lap in the pool and every workout in the gym was infused with gratitude towards your organization. It enabled me to push myself to attend English language courses and secure employment in the local school. I continued with sports activities until the very end of my pregnancy, and now, my little one, a new resident of Scotland, accompanies me to the pool.

“We managed to get back on our feet, and secure housing, and currently, my children participate in various sections of your network (gymnastics, trampolining, swimming, and diving), and we are grateful that we can afford to pay for these activities now. However, it all started with the initial impulse from the ‘RPAP’ card.

“I want to extend heartfelt thanks on behalf of all Ukrainians in Edinburgh for the crucial support that was so desperately needed and that we received from your organisation.

“Thank you once again for making a significant difference in our lives.”

Council Leader Cammy Day said: “The feedback received from Maryna, one of the Ukrainian refugees is a touching testament to the value of the Relocated People Access Programme and the impact it is having on people’s lives. We’re proud to support refugees as they settle into their new lives in our city.

“In the face of unimaginable adversity, Maryna Ivanova's story exemplifies the triumph of the human spirit and the transformative power of community support and sport and physical activity. Through her resilience and perseverance, Maryna has overcome the trauma of displacement. As she continues her journey of rebuilding her family’s life in Edinburgh, Maryna's story serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for refugees worldwide and we’re glad to have been able to play a part.”