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Viktoria, Ukrainian Refugee


Where about in Ukraine are you from?

Its a small town called Korosten – population 16,000 near to Zhytomyr

How did you get here?

I came to Market Harborough on the 1st of July.

When the war first broke out, I went to Poland, I didn’t know where I would go but I knew it wasn’t safe so I took my daughter Alisa and our clothes and left. I have a sister that lives in Germany who I thought I could stay with for a while, but first I needed to get to Poland and then we’d have to travel on from there.

Alisa and I slept in a gym (in the next town which was safer than ours) for 2 or 3 nights while we looked for a way to leave the country, there were too many people on the busses, so we went on the train and sat wherever we could get a seat. It was night time and it took a very long time to get to Poland and It was freezing so I looked for something hot to eat. We had to wait at the polish border for hours during which I asked myself “where will we go tonight? Where will we sleep?” I have a small daughter aged 3.

We were given a website to look at, but I didn’t understand anything because it was all written in Polish. So I called a number on there, they didn’t understand me. I thought that night we would have to sleep at the train station.

I was surprised 30 minutes later with a phone call from someone who was speaking Ukrainian. The woman told me I could go to her town where she could help us and after a couple of calls back and forth, she told me that there was a man that could pick us up and house us. She asked for my picture to give to the man so he would recognise me. While I waited, I went back into the train station to get my daughter who was sleeping. And the people there asked me:

“So, do you know where you will go?”

“No, I don’t know where,” I said.

“Do you know this man who will pick you up?” They asked,

“No I don’t know who he is,” I replied

“Why are you going? You shouldn’t go! It’s not safe!” they said.

And I told them “I don’t know what else I can do! It’s cold, I need to sleep”

They asked me if I speak Polish and I said “no”. They asked me if I spoke English… I spoke very little English.

When the man picked us up, I was very worried. I knew nothing about this country, I didn’t know the people, I didn’t know where I was going. It felt crazy, like trying to fly without wings, but we got into the car. The Man spoke some English, so we tried to communicate in English. His name was Pavel and he told me he had children, and this made me feel a little better.

When we got to his home, we had a drink and then slept; in the morning we had a shower.

Pavel was also helping two other elderly people from Ukraine, and we got talking. We asked each other where we would go, where we would live and I said that I didn’t not know, probably with my sister and cousin. I looked to buy a plane ticket, but I needed to wait for a week and our host said that we could stay temporarily with his mother.

At Pavel’s mother’s house and we started to talk to them, they seemed very kind people, the lady worked as a nurse for a hospital, she said that we could stay and live with them, they would help me find work and Alisa could go to pre-school. I was grateful for her offer, but I didn’t feel like this place was home, I didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t want to cause a problem for them. They told me “No, it’s not a problem, we love you, we like Alisa” and so I decided to wait for the day of my flight to make the decision on whether I would stay or go. It was very hard but in the end I stayed.

I went to work, Alisa went to pre-school, I asked our hosts how long we could stay as I didn’t know when the war would end. It certainly wasn’t going to just be one month and could be two or three months, maybe 6 months or more, who knew how long it would last?

I was told that I could stay a year, maybe more because they had a large house with only two of them soI decided to stay and I lived with these people as if they were my own parents. I woke up at 6 am every day, took Alisa to pre-school, went to work, came home, did the housework and cooked. I was doing too much really, but it was good to stay busy, because while I was doing something, I didn’t think about the war. that was important because I was very depressed at that time. I cried every day, every morning.

My host came to me one day and told me that I wasn’t doing good enough for Alisa and because of this, I started to feel like I needed to leave. It made me uncomfortable to have someone tell me how I should raise my child. I started to think about what I could do for work in the future and where I would go. I have a degree in psychology, but I didn’t speak the language. the town where I was staying had a lot of Ukrainians staying there, and there was no rented accommodation available and what there was available was very expensive and my salary was very, very small. I looked every day for jobs on the polish job sites even though I didn’t understand them.

One day I came across a site for people looking to help Ukrainians, I had never thought that I would end up going to the UK, but I suddenly got this message saying:

“Hello, my name is Helen, I’m 34, my husband and I have children, we want to help you”.

I wrote back to her; she translated her messages in to Ukrainian and we spoke over WhatsApp. She told me that she would sponsor me, and we started to do the documents for my visa. The first question I asked her was “how long can I stay?” Because it’s hard for children to have to move from one home to another so often, If it was only me it would be easy, but not for Alisa.

She reassured me that that I could stay for 1 year.

I was offered somewhere to stay in a church for 1 month while we waited for our visa documents, so we packed up our things and our clothes again and we went to the church. There were 6 other Ukrainian people there including the pastor of the church. I didn’t have a passport for Alisa, and we needed it for the visa, I had to cross back in to Ukraine so for 1 week we went back to our town. I wanted to say goodbye to my family too, but we were in the town just one night and 3 bombs were dropped 1 km from my house, and it was then I knew we really couldn’t stay in Ukraine. I was too difficult for Alisa and wasn’t safe.  If we stayed, she can’t go to pre-school, we can’t do anything, we would just sit there worrying every day. So, I finished the paperwork and told my husband and my family that I would go to the UK.

Once our visas finally arrived, I bought a ticket for us to fly to the UK and Helen and her husband met me at the airport.

Why is your Item important to you and what does it mean to you?

The place where I used to live is a very small town known for rich deposits of amber. People make their earnings digging amber. They dig it out, sell, pay taxes and live mainly on this type of income. This piece of amber is my first finding. I gave it to my niece as a present, but she returned it to me as a pendant finished in our state yellow-and-blue colour. This thing is very important to me, it reminds me of the land where I come from, it brings back my memories of the relatives, my first niece whom I had baby-sat for a long while, of her caring attitude to me and my daughter. That is why it is so special to me.

What makes Harborough special to you?

My friends (that I met here) , It’s amazing , I’m very happy I have friends like Kate & Iryna. I have so many friends now. When I came to Market Harborough, I didn’t have anything, just me and Alisa, but I started talking to people and everyone was very kind. I like that Market Harborough is a small town. Big towns I don’t like as much because it’s loud and there’s too much traffic. Here, Alisa has friends, I have friends. My host is very kind and now I know this town like it is my own town. I know every street; I know where I can go.

If you could share one memory about Harborough, what would it be?

Again, it’s people, it’s talking to people, and everywhere I go, people are smiling, everyone is in a good mood, and the people wear shorts when it’s -1 degrees outside! It makes me laugh!

What is your favourite place in Harborough?

A Methodist church where we meet every Saturday, I like it because it’s where I first met my friends! I ride past the church every day on the bike that I was given when I go to pick Alisa up from preschool. I like to see it.

I also like Kelmarsh, I have a friend from Harborough who lives there this village is very beautiful and I love the forest there. Market Harborough is lovely because it’s a bit like my town, it’s small and not too big and it’s beautiful.

If you had one message for the people of Harborough, what would you say? 

I would request that local people should not take pity on Ukrainians or be mournful about us. Ukrainians are strong and active. If you wish to help, just ask questions how to assist.

What are your plans for the future?  

Of course, I have plans! I have a diploma in nursing, but I don’t speak English very well which makes things difficult. I want to start working in care because I like to help people, I enjoy this work, I want to rent a house and get my nurses qualifications for the UK and start working here as nurse. I want Alisa to have everything, I want her to go to pre-school, make friends, go to dancing classes. I want her to have everything she needs in life. I want her to be happy.

What is the most important thing that you have come to understand/ learned about your life since you left Ukraine?

 We will be happy. It doesn’t matter if you have money, a house, clothes – or not. You only need to do what you want, enjoy the life you have and be happy because you could die tomorrow, next week, you don’t know what will happen. So just be happy.