How refugees from Ukraine came to find a second home in the UK

Mother and daughter, Viktoria

Thousands of Britons opened their homes to refugees when war broke out in Ukraine almost a year ago.

Even though not all sponsorships under the Homes for Ukraine program were successful, many of them were, and as a result, many refugees were able to settle down and find jobs and homes of their own.

The BBC visited Belper, Derbyshire, where those fleeing the violence claim they were welcomed with open arms.

Viktoria and her daughter and mum
When they first arrived, according to Viktoria, her mother, her daughter, and they did not speak much English.

In April 2022, Viktoria Tkachenko, 38, and her daughter, 12, arrived in the UK with just one suitcase of clothing and very limited English.

The 38-year-old Viktoria said, "My daughter is almost a teenager and she grows so fast. We didn't have much for her.".

The family had left Kyiv and traveled through Poland to the UK.

They chose Belper as their new home because Viktoria's mother Imma, 61, knew someone who lived there, had married an Englishman, and had lived there for 20 years.

A few months after Imma and Volodymyr, Viktoria's 72-year-old father, joined her in the town, the couple offered the family a place to live.

They found it extremely difficult to depart, she claimed.

When you reach adulthood, you become like a tree with deep roots that is difficult to uproot.

They had no English skills.

But coming to this country was a wise decision for us.

"Especially in Belper, the people are lovely. They always make an effort to assist us. Even the bus drivers are friendly and smile. ".

Two weeks after their arrival, she claimed, her daughter had begun attending a primary school in England.

Imma and Viktoria's daughter
Viktoria was joined in the town by her father and her mother Imma (pictured here with Viktoria's daughter).

She used to call her Ukrainian friends frequently, but now that she also has some English-speaking friends, she is doing fine, the witness claimed.

She began high school in September, and her teachers were excellent. They assisted her by giving her more English lessons. She didn't speak any English when she first arrived, but she has since improved greatly. ".

She claims that because her parents have been taking English classes as well, they are now much more at ease in the UK.

In Belper, where she now works as a hotel receptionist, Viktoria, who was a travel agent in Kyiv, is currently renting an apartment with her daughter.

Still concerned about their friends back home is the family.

Viktoria's daughter
The family of Viktoria is accustomed to their new surroundings.

While Sergei, Viktoria's partner, works for the government, Valeria, Viktoria's sister, resides in Kyiv with her husband.

Every morning, she said, "we read the news to see what's going on in Ukraine.".

According to Viktoria, she is also concerned about her Kyiv home.

She said, "I had to save for an apartment for years, and every day the Russians bomb Ukraine.".

But I'm so glad we came here, I must say. I have a homey feeling here. ".

Olha and her daughter
Olha claimed that the locals had been friendly to her and her daughter.

In May 2022, Olha and her daughter, who was seven, fled from Kiev and arrived in Belper.

The 38-year-old, who was studying German and English in Kherson at the time of the Russian invasion, moved to Belper where she already had family.

We were extremely fortunate, she said, because I already had relatives in Belper who welcomed us and assisted us in finding housing.

"That was really helpful.

"While we were here, we stayed with three different families, and each one of them was incredibly friendly.

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

She claimed that while she and her daughter had made an effort to assimilate into the new culture, she had discovered that residents of the town were generally accepting 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 picked up knowledge quickly.  She speaks full sentences and is now settled at the school.  She is enjoying it and the teachers are very nice. ".

Olha claimed she enjoyed Belper but missed Kyiv, where her husband Dymitri still resides.

"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
Paul Terry said the town is very inclusive.

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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