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How Ukrainian refugees found their second home

Published on 2023-05-28 11:12:37 source:NBC News

When war broke out in Ukraine almost one year ago, thousands of people from across Britain opened their homes to refugees.

While not every sponsorship under the Homes for Ukraine scheme was successful, plenty were and - as a result - refugees have been able to settle and move into jobs and homes of their own.

The BBC went to one town where those fleeing the violence say they received a warm welcome - Belper, in Derbyshire.

When Viktoria Tkachenko, 38, and her 12-year-old daughter arrived in the UK in April 2022, they carried only one suitcase of clothes and spoke only basic English.

"My daughter is nearly a teenager and she grows so fast and we didn't have anything much for her," said Viktoria, 38.

The family had fled Kyiv and travelled to the UK via Poland.

They decided to settle in Belper because Viktoria's mother Imma, 61, had a friend who lived in the town and had married an Englishman and settled there 20 years previously.

The couple offered the family a home and Viktoria was joined in the town, a few months later, by Imma and Volodymyr, her 72-year-old father.

"It was very hard for them to leave," she said.

"When you are an adult, you are like a tree that has put down roots and it takes a lot to move you.

"They did not speak English.

"But we have made a good choice when we came to this country.

"The people here are lovely, especially in Belper. They are always trying to help us. People smile - even the bus drivers are friendly."

She said her daughter had started at an English primary school two weeks after their arrival.

"At first, she was calling her Ukrainian friends every day, but now she has some English friends and she is ok," she said.

"In September, she started high school and her teachers were very good and helped her by giving her more English lessons. She didn't speak any English when she came here but she speaks it really well now."

Her parents have also been taking English lessons and she says they are far more comfortable in the UK as a result.

Viktoria and her daughter are now renting an apartment and Viktoria - who was a travel agent in Kyiv - is now working as a hotel receptionist in Belper.

The family remain worried about friends back home.

Viktoria's sister Valeria lives in Kyiv with her husband, while Viktoria's partner Sergei is working with the government.

"Every morning, we are reading the news to try to see what is happening in Ukraine," she said.

Viktoria said she also worried about her home in Kyiv.

"It took me years to save for an apartment and the Russians are bombing Ukraine every day," she said.

"But I am so pleased we came here. It feels like my second home."

Olha fled from Kyiv with her seven-year-old daughter and arrived in Belper in May 2022.

The 38-year-old, who was studying English and German in Kherson when the Russians occupied the city, came to Belper where she already had relatives.

She said: "We were very lucky because I already had family in Belper who encouraged us to come and helped us find a home.

"That was a great help.

"We have stayed with three families while we have been here and they were all so welcoming.

"I know what a big commitment it is to welcome a mum and her child into your home."

She said she and her daughter had tried to adapt to the new culture but she had found people in the town had generally been understanding of Ukrainian culture.

"When we arrived people were kind and donated clothes and a school uniform.

"My daughter did not speak any English when she arrived and she would not want to go to school because of that," she said.

"But she has learned quickly. She speaks full sentences and is now settled at the school. She is enjoying it and the teachers are very nice."

Olha said she missed Kyiv, where her husband Dymitri remains, but liked Belper.

"It is a very nice town - not too big, not too small - and the people are kind," she said.

"We feel safe here and we know we are very fortunate."

Paul Terry, 67, who has lived in the town for 20 years, is the co-ordinator for Belper's Ukrainian Refugee Group (BURG) - a group of volunteers set up to support the Ukrainians' arrival in the town.

He said the town and surrounding district had played host to around 100 Ukrainians.

"Belper is like that - it's very inclusive," he said.

"When the government first put out the call for hosts, we had a massive response. We were also one of the first towns to take an LGBT couple from Ukraine."

He said the scheme had had its ups and downs.

"We have had hosts who weren't suitable, we have had people who decided after six months that they didn't wish to continue with hosting so we have had to find the refugees new accommodation.

"Preventing homelessness has been a big issue and so far, we have managed to do it."

The group has also worked with the local food banks to provide supplies to the Ukrainian families, as well as supporting refugees into employment and putting on events.

"We organised a Christmas party for the Ukrainian Christmas, on 7 January," he said. "We managed to get about 80 Ukrainians into one room, all singing and dancing.

"It was quite emotional to see them."

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