Rob Rinder and mother highlight plight of refugees as they collect MBEs

The TV judge found relatives of former Strictly partner Oksana Platero during a recent visit to Ukraine.

30 March 2022

TV judge Rob Rinder has spoken of the “gift and privilege” of finding the grandparents of his former Strictly Come Dancing partner in Ukraine as he collected an MBE for services to Holocaust education.

The media personality, 43, warned his time in the war-torn region had showed him “life can turn on a dime” after witnessing families cross the border earlier in the month.

Mr Rinder had travelled to Ukraine to report on the ground, where he ended up finding his Strictly partner Oksana Platero’s grandparents and aunt, who he said were in “special difficulty.”

“It’s a magical relationship which doesn’t disappear,” he said of his bond with Ms Platero, with whom he reached fifth place on the show in 2016.

“Whilst I was there (reporting at the border), I asked what was going on with her family.

“I then found out that her grandparents were in special difficulty.

“Her family left with not enough medical things that they needed, a wheelchair and various things that people with disabilities need.

“We were able to get that stuff to her (family) and that was a real gift and a privilege.”

Investitures at Windsor Castle
Angela Cohen and Rob Rinder collect their awards (Jonathan Brady/PA)

He said the dancer’s relatives had managed to cross the border but had been forced to leave “last minute” along with many others.

“All of these things we see that make us think we livein the first world and so consequently, we’re protected or cushioned from horror, from fleeing our homes, that was true a month ago in Kyiv and Lviv a month ago.

“A month later a station that was pretty much like Milton Keynes is now a border crossing with refugees.

“Life can turn on a dime, and so every person crossing, every mum with their kids in Dora the Explorer backpacks, each one of them is one of us.

“The great British public understand that and they’ve always answered the call.”

Strictly Come Dancing 2016
For use in UK, Ireland or Benelux countries only Undated BBC handout photo of Oksana Platero and Judge Robert Rinder during the live show of BBC1 show, Strictly Come Dancing (Guy Levy/BBC/PA)

Mr Rinder said the experience had made him proud of being British, and that seeing so many people from the UK helping on the border was “a great light in all of the darkness”.

“I saw in Ukraine on the borders some of the best of British everywhere, people who answered the call to be the best of who we could be.”

He appeared alongside his mother, Angela Cohen, who received the same award as him, also for services to Holocaust education.

Ms Cohen said that her work heading the ’45 Aid society, a charity set up in 1963 by Holocaust survivors, had made clear the importance of “welcoming” those fleeing conflict.

Standing alongside her son, she said: “I think that everything that’s happening in the Ukraine is a lesson that we have to welcome everybody into this country like it happened for my father,” she said.

The mother and son duo appeared together in the 2019 BBC series My Family, The Holocaust And Me, which explored the stories of Jewish families.

Investitures at Windsor Castle
Robert Rinder (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Rinder said their mission had been to “teach the world what happens when we forget history”.

He added that although it was important to avoid “mak(ing) equivalencies” or politicising too heavily, the current conflict in Ukraine meant “now more than ever (we should) remember what happens when we’re too complacent”.

Mr Rinder previously traced his own family’s roots in an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, making new discoveries about his grandfather, Morris Malenicky, a survivor of two concentration camps.

Ms Cohen said her father Mr Malenicky would have been “so proud” to see his daughter and grandson both receive royal honours together, something she said he “couldn’t even have dreamed of”.

“It has been utterly overwhelming, and probably one of the most amazing days of my life,” she said.

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