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Dragon Interview: Olha – a Ukrainian Refugee in Guildford

Published on: 19 Aug, 2022
Updated on: 19 Aug, 2022

Ukrainian refugee Olha

Olha (who did not wish to give her surname) is one of the 500 Ukrainian refugees said to now be living in Guildford.

She managed to leave the Ukrainian capital Kyiv with her 15-year-old son, travelling first to Slovakia where she applied for visas to come to the UK.

A chef by training, she is now living with her hosts Stephen and Kathryn in Merrow.

The interview was conducted by Martin Giles through an interpreter.

How did the Russian invasion affect you and how did you manage to leave Ukraine?

The invasion really started gradually in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and parts of Donetsk where I am from. So we had first to move from the occupied territory to territory that wasn’t occupied.

We then lived in the unoccupied territory, but our home wasn’t occupied territory and our family would report that the terrorists have occupied a certain territory, about military activity and what was happening.

And when were you able to get out of Ukraine, did you go to another country before you came here?

We were in Kyiv when the further Russian invasion of Ukraine occurred on the 24th of February. War activity was visible from the house window we heard explosions, and saw fires.

For three days they were trying to understand what was going on. And when the military action escalated, my husband decided that I and our son had to evacuate. We felt more exposed and there were more fires so we decided we must save our lives and leave.

It was very hard to leave because the underground didn’t work and the trains were packed. There were a lot of people fleeing.

My husband and I wanted to save the life of our son. That was first and foremost. There were lots of other people with young children trying to get into the train which was crammed full. But we managed to get a train from Kyiv to another Ukrainian city where we had to wait outside in the cold for another train.

Why did you want to come to the UK specifically and how did you find the visa system?

I found out about the British visa programme on March 18. By then we were in Slovakia, so when the UK programme started we decided to apply because my son speaks English.

How is your welcome here been?

A very warm welcome and we have met some incredible people. We’ve been welcomed as real family members. We were expecting a warm welcome but not to that degree.

Is England as you expected it to be? What are your first impressions of the country and of Guildford?

I knew quite a lot about England before and it was as I expected but what I would like to point out is how people treat each other here. I haven’t met anybody who has been hostile or who treats people differently depending on their nationality or otherwise and this is the most pleasant thing that I have encountered here.

Well, that’s good to hear. And have you seen the Ukrainian flag flying in Guildford? If you have, were you surprised?

The Ukrainian flag flying in Guildford over the Guildhall, the castle and at Millmead, as a sign of support

I was very surprised. There are a lot of Ukrainian flags here and it took some pictures to send back home to say how everybody here is supporting them. Our hosts greeted us with Ukrainian flags when we got off the train and they were not the only ones standing there with the Ukrainian flag greetings guests.

So now you’ve had a chance to settle in. You’ve been here a couple of months. What do you do or hope to do here?

I would like to find a job here and support myself for as long as the war continues.

My son got into school here quite easily and very quickly and he really enjoys it. They’re really supportive and he really likes the school and the culture. He hopes to continue his education here and wishes to use it in the future, regardless of whether they go back to Ukraine or stay here for a bit longer.

If the war does drag on, are you worried that it’s going to slip down the news agenda?

I’m really worried about it because my parents, my husband and a lot of friends are all still there in Ukraine. I just want the war to stop.

So what would you say to those who feel that the suffering isn’t worth it? That it would be better for Ukraine to give up some territory to secure peace?

I am convinced that the Russians will not stop at a certain territory. They will always want more. It will not only be Ukraine. They already had Crimea and part of Donetsk but that wasn’t enough. I feel very strongly that this is the case.

Thank you very much for taking part in this interview and good luck with your stay here.

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