This year we are working with an incredible group of Refugee Week Ambassadors alongside our partners at IMIX to help promote and represent the festival. We wanted to take a moment to introduce them. So, in their own words, here are the 2023 Refugee Week Ambassadors! Look out for them on our social media platforms in the next few weeks.

Ruslan Vasyutin 

Being a Refugee Week Ambassador, for me, is rather not to be, but to act! More important is not the honorary trusted status, but the activity and its impact.

I see Refugee Week as a mission, and I see myself as part of that mission. The mission is to restore the balance of peaceful coexistence of various ethnic groups and peoples in the world, violated by humanitarian cataclysms.

I am Ukrainian, 52 years old, I arrived in the UK in June 2022, fleeing the war in Ukraine, with my wife and daughter, who is severely disabled. In my motherland, I was a top manager of an insurance company and a public figure. I have a PhD in Psychology and vast experience in charity and community management. I currently live in Solihull, West Midlands, work at Aston University, am developing my own consultancy business and am an active member of Rotary UK.

I see one of my main tasks as replacing the traditional stereotype of a refugee as a victim with a new, more correct stereotype of a hero, a resourceful person, and a fully-fledged member of society. I will be happy if I manage to convey this to the public in all available ways, including by my own example.

Zahra Shaheer 

My name is Zahra Shaheer and I am 33 years old. This year, I am an ambassador for Refugee Week. I evacuated to the UK about two years ago. As a journalist and women’s rights activist, I started some activities advocating for women and girls back in Afghanistan, as well as for refugee rights in the UK.

I completed my BA in Law and have two children, whom I would love to see study and make a brighter future for themselves and others, to help and support people and the world.

I would like to pursue a master’s degree and work in journalism again.

Natalia Nahorna

My name is Nataliia Nahorna. I am a Ukrainian lawyer and advocate. I have 20 years of legal experience, ten of them as a lawyer in criminal cases. I have represented the interests of victims of domestic violence and vulnerable sections of the population as well as many other clients. 

I have performed the role of a mediator in restorative justice procedures. I facilitated settlement agreements between victims and juvenile offenders, resulting in nine positive decisions in the field of restorative justice.

I am a member and coordinator of the Association of Women Lawyers, ‘Yur-Fem’, whose activities are aimed at preventing and combating domestic violence, providing legal assistance to victims of sexual violence, as well as all types of gender discrimination. The organisation also provides support, mentoring and mentoring for women in the legal profession.

As a global citizen, I believe it is our responsibility to empower those who have been forced to flee their homes due to war and persecution. As a Refugee Week Ambassador, I hope to contribute to shaping society’s perception of refugee rights and their struggles. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has resulted in a mass exodus of people, particularly women and children seeking refuge in safer countries. These individuals did not choose to leave their homes, rather they were forced to do so under dire circumstances. In some cases, they had to make life-altering decisions in a matter of hours to ensure their survival and that of their loved ones. I want to make a positive impact on the lives of those who have been displaced. It is my hope that together we can create a world where refugees are welcomed with open arms and given the opportunity to rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.  

Each day I experience compassion from my host family, volunteers and wider British society. It is also the help and support Ukrainians provide abroad provide to their country.  Compassion is having an open heart, showing kindness and empathy and feeling distressed over any evil or destruction. It is about being benevolent towards one’s neighbour and spreading positivity wherever possible.

Joel Mordi 

I founded the Mordi Ibe Foundation (MIF) and helped to organise Nigeria’s first ever month-long ‘all-inclusive’ Pride protests across 15 locations in Abuja/Lagos. This included the first-ever: gay, bi, trans, intersex, lesbian Pride and IDAHOBLIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia). I was also part of the first-ever Reclaim Pride event in the UK. I was named Attitude 101 LGBTQ 2023 Trailblazers. My ‘Pride’ featured in Gay Times, Metro UK, YNaija and the law firm, Clifford Chance. 

During lockdown, I created over 300 awareness/call-to-action videos for a plethora of causes from which I was invited to speak in 2022’s Conservative/Labour party conferences where I stressed rising homelessness in the LGBT+ community, LGBT+ sex for rent, banning conversion therapy, upholding trans rights and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. I won the 2023 Special Recognition Award for Overcoming Adversity by National Student Pride, the Sheila McKechnie Foundation Amplifying Voices award with Safe Passage, and the Gaydio Pride, Volunteer of the Year award for my contributions towards non-profits across Britain. I have also just been nominated for Campaigner/Influencer” of the Year by the Bank of London, Rainbow Honours 2023. 

I have spoken at University of East London, Warwick, York and Berlin on many different topics including pioneering the LGBT+ movement in Nigeria, queering international development, speaking from the margins, solidarity and displacement. My speech at parliament square against (then) Nationality/Borders Bill on the ill-treatment of vulnerable asylum seekers got featured by the United Nations. I am currently working on a documentary with the Guardian on LGBT+ poverty especially within the Black/POC community.

Gaida Dirar 

I am a refugee who was resettled to the UK in 2015. I am a public speaker, refugee representative and refugee rights advocate. I am interested in raising refugee voices and educating the community about refugees and asylum seekers, and campaigning for multicultural communities and activities. I previously volunteered with the UNHCR medical team as a general nurse at The Al Saloum Refugee Camp in Egypt. I used to be a community development worker and am now a resettlement worker at the British Refugee Council. In 2019, 2021 and 2022 I represented UK refugees as a panellist and speaker at the Annual Tripartite Consultation on Resettlement conference (ATCR), Geneva. Also, I am member of Yorkshire and Humberside Refugee Advisory Group RAG, the Global Refugee Steering Group / Global Refugee Advisory Group, UNHCR, City of Sanctuary ambassador, and member of Sanctuary in Politics and Operational Advisory Group. Also I am member of the Yorkshire Regional Integration Forum. I am experienced in ESOL consultancy and raising awareness on seeking sanctuary in schools and other organisations. I am currently a Politics and International Relations student at the University of Hull.


Mika Abdullayeva

My name is Mika.

I was trapped in the UK’s asylum system for many years. It is critical for me to advocate not only for my own rights as an individual but for the collective rights of all people seeking asylum in the UK. I am passionate about using the law to promote awareness of human rights and my aim is to pursue a career in law which will enable me to use my knowledge to help others. I am committed to migrant justice. For example, as part of the Lift the Ban campaign, I visited the UK Parliament in 2018 to advocate for people seeking asylum to be given the right to work. I took part in UpRising’s film-making Find Your Power programme, where I created content and acted in films about the importance of good education for asylum seekers and our individual and collective hopes and dreams. I have also been involved in other creative projects relating to migrant justice, including podcasts, storywriting and poetry. Several of my pieces showcasing my imagination have been featured on YouTube and various websites. 

I believe my personal situation has given me determination and resilience where I can create a better society. This part of my poem, The Making of a Warrior, featured in a book by Stories if Hope and Home: 

‘The rules may be theirs but the game will be hers

The victory will be hers

She will fight until the very end

It is inevitable’

Malka Al-Haddad

I am an accomplished human rights activist and poet with a wide interest in different cultures and the issues of international human rights and peaceful co-operation between different ethnic and religious groups.

Back in Iraq, I worked as an academic lecturer in Arab literary criticism and have been a member of the Union of Iraqi Writers since 2005.

In exile, I have continued to write academic papers and articles on human rights issues, women’s rights, and refugee rights, which have been published in Iraq and overseas. In 2015, I presented a paper on the impact of violence on women in Iraq at the 4th IARS Annual Conference. I have a Master of Arts degree in the Politics of Conflict and Violence and have participated in the London School of Economics Middle East Centre BRISMES Annual Conference in 2015.

My debut poetry collection, Birds Without Sky: Poems from Exile, (Harriman House Ltd, 2018) was longlisted for the Leicester Book of the Year award in 2018. I have also read my poetry in various locations across the country, including at the House of Commons to Members of Parliament. My most recent poetry has been featured in the Leicester 2084 A.D. anthology. I am most interested in my academic research, which delves into human rights, peace, equality of treatment for women, and international cooperation. I enjoy travelling, exploring different cultures, and meeting new people.

Mayas Dirar

I am a Sudanese refugee artist from Hull. I am part of the collaborative artist group Arafa and the Dirars, a number of refugee adviser groups, and an art student at the University of Leeds. The experience of being a war survivor, and the time I have spent in a refugee camp have left a life-long lasting impact on my life and who I am. Since then, I’m using my art and my voice to advocate to the local and international community about refugees and asylum seekers. My art and my voice have always and will always stand against war and the devastating effects of war on individuals and on us a human nation.

Teslim Thomas

My name is Teslim Thomas, I love to cook, write songs and bathroom singing. I love God with everything in me. I was born in the western part of Africa (Sierra Leone) and I’ve been living in the Northern part of England for a little over four years. In that short period I have met some of the most wholesome souls who walk the earth.

I studied medicine for a period but unfortunately had to leave it. I am currently a full-time student in Biomedical Science with a career in cardiology as the ultimate goal. I am the LGBTQ+ Officer and President of the Queer Society on campus.

I help Facilitate a peer support group for LGBTQ+ Refugees and People in the Asylum process. I am part of a great choir called Harmony Choir who break down language and cultural barriers through the art of singing. Everyone is welcome! I am also a member of the conversation club organised by Mill Hill Chapel Leeds where dedicated volunteers help provide a space for refugees and people seeking asylum to sit, commune with each other, learn English language and signpost people to organisations for practical support. 

These are all places you can go and feel like a functioning member of the community, an identity the asylum process has got a ‘choke hold’ on.

“Sometimes a smile is all the words we need”

Find out more about IMIX here.

Images by @photography_mona_