Iryna Thomas-Dyachenko moved to the UK from Ukraine in 1999.

She’s a mum of three, lives in Oxford and makes bespoke dresses for a living.

When the war in Ukraine broke out in February last year, Iryna put her life on hold to help those affected by the fighting.

READ MORE: Oxford group sees Botley Road closure as 'useful opportunity'

In just over a year, the 44-year-old and three other mums from the Dragon School in Oxford have collected and raised over £1 million worth of essential items to send to the front line through their organisation Dragon Oxford Aid to Ukraine.

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And the project is still ongoing.

The group has pledged to keep sending items as long as they are needed.

Dragon Oxford Aid to Ukraine specialises in providing high-tech medical equipment to Ukraine.

They have formed partnerships to supply hospitals in Dnipro and Kherson, close to the front line, which have an urgent need for more medical equipment.

Although the group is not a registered charity, Dragon Oxford Aid to Ukraine is accredited through British Ukrainian Aid.

This means they can collect money and donators can add gift aid onto it.

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Iryna said: “I was happily and peacefully making dresses for a living but when the war started it was a big shock.

“I pretty much put off work for a year.

“I felt that most things in life could wait but Ukraine really couldn’t.

“My cousin works as a surgeon and we grew up together, so when he produced a long list of things that they needed to operate, it was scary to see that they didn’t even have the basics that here in the UK we take for granted.”

Iryna has been amazed by the reaction of the local community in Oxford to the fundraising effort.

She said: “We have been overwhelmed by the reaction from the people of Oxford.

“We started initially collecting small things but, in parallel, people were very generous and were giving lots of other donations that were needed such as nappies, toothbrushes, baby milk and food.

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“We had loads and loads of stuff.

“My whole house was full, my garage was full.”

This encouraged the group to rethink and decide to only focus on the medical equipment.

She added: “A year on we are working much better, and I am starting to get my life on track.

“But at the same time, I feel like we are still doing a lot for Ukraine as we are working smarter.

“Everyone is 100 per cent committed and we are raising money in a more organised way.

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“We have learnt a lot.”

Iryna has used her contacts in Ukraine to ensure that the medical equipment and donations reach the people that really need them.

She explained that the issue with big organisations such as the Red Cross is that they aren’t used to dealing with countries that already have their own infrastructure.

Dragon Oxford Aid to Ukraine has been so successful at delivering kit that bigger charities such as Médecins Sans Frontières and the WHO have asked us to source and send specialist equipment to Ukraine.

The group has sent aid to over 30 hospitals and they recently sent out a steriliser which clean and disinfect surgical equipment.

They have also kitted out two ambulances with deliberators and stretchers among other essential items.

Anna Morris, aged 45 from Summertown, is one of the four mums who run the group.

She oversees the logistical side of things.  

“We are very particular about which people we are sending the kit to, as we need to make sure that they are people who really need it,” the 45-year-old said.

“There is quite a lot of corruption in Ukraine generally, so we are very fastidious about who we send it to.

“Organisations such as the World Health Organisation has sent some things out through us as they know that it will get to where it needs to go.”

The other two women who head up Dragon Oxford Aid to Ukraine are Helen Ashdown, aged 39 from Botley and Magdalena Garabette, aged 45 from Bladon.

Helen is a registered GP at Beaumont Surgery and a lecturer at Sommerville College, Oxford whereas Magdalena is in control of the group’s finances.

Helen’s medical knowledge has helped the group when it comes to knowing exactly what kit to order and where from.

Dragon Oxford Aid to Ukraine often sends the kit out through the family-owned Hook Norton brewery, near Chipping Norton.

James Clarke who heads up the brewery has been raising money to buy four-wheel drives that transport the medical equipment to Ukraine.  

Matt Waring, aged 52, from Sibford Gower, near Banbury is close friends with James and has driven out to Ukraine on a number of occasions to deliver the kit.

He said: “My role is to get things from here to Ukraine.

“I went a couple of times in December, in January and again last week.

“I tend to go every four to six weeks and do the journey over two days with a stop in Germany.”

He explained that he didn’t know Iryna before but was inspired to get involved in the project after seeing the war on television and felt as if he couldn’t just do nothing about it.

Dragon Oxford Aid to Ukraine are currently fundraising to trial water purification tablets.

Anna said: “At the moment the Russians are deliberately leaving lots of bodies around and in wells to try and contaminate water supplies.

“Any toxins within that body contaminate the water.

“We are currently working with professors from Oxford University to try and find something that will test the water in a well and then purify the water.”

On May 13, Iryna is holding an auction sale of her handmade clothes.

The proceeds of the sale of a bespoke coat will be donated to Dragon Oxford Aid to Ukraine.

If you would like to donate to the cause, you can access the group's JustGiving page for 2023 here