How Ukrainian immigrants came to find a second home in the UK

Victoria and her child

Thousands of people from all over Britain welcomed refugees into their homes when war broke out in Ukraine almost a year ago.

Despite the fact that not every sponsorship under the Homes for Ukraine program was successful, many of them were, and as a result, many refugees have been able to settle and move into jobs and homes of their own.

Belper, in Derbyshire, is one of the towns where those fleeing the violence claim they were welcomed with open arms, and the BBC visited there.

Viktoria and her daughter and mum
According to Viktoria, when they first arrived, neither she nor her mother or daughter spoke much English.

In April 2022, 38-year-old Viktoria Tkachenko and her 12-year-old daughter traveled to the UK with just one suitcase of clothing and very limited English.

The nearly-teenage daughter of Viktoria, 38, said, "We didn't have much for her. She grows so quickly.

The family had left Kyiv and made their way to the UK through Poland.

They chose Belper as their new home because Imma, Viktoria's 61-year-old mother, had a friend who was a resident of the community who had settled there 20 years earlier after getting married to an Englishman.

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

They had a difficult time leaving, she claimed.

When you're an adult, it takes a lot to move you because you've established roots like a tree.

They had no knowledge of English.

"However, coming to this country was a wise decision on our part.

Particularly in Belper, the locals are lovely. They constantly work to assist us. People are friendly, even the bus drivers smile. ".

Two weeks after their arrival, she claimed, her daughter enrolled in an English primary school.

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 said, "At first, she used to call her Ukrainian friends every day, but now that she has some English friends, she is fine.

"When she started high school in September, her teachers supported her by giving her more English lessons. When she first arrived, she didn't speak any English, but these days, she does. ".

Her parents have been taking English classes as well, and she claims that as a result, they are much more at ease in the UK.

In addition to renting an apartment with her daughter, Viktoria, a former travel agent in Kiev, is now employed in Belper as a hotel receptionist.

The family continues to worry about their friends back home.

Viktoria's daughter
The family of Viktoria has gotten used to their new home.

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

We try to read the news every morning to see what is happening in Ukraine, she said.

In addition to Viktoria, she expressed concern for her Kyiv home.

She claimed, "It took me years to save for an apartment and the Russians bomb Ukraine every day.

"However, I'm really glad we came here. My second home, if you will. ".

Olha and her daughter
Olha claimed that she and her daughter had been welcomed by the community.

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

The 38-year-old, who was studying English and German in Kherson at the time the city was taken over by the Russians, arrived in Belper where she already had family.

We had the good fortune to already have family in Belper who welcomed us and assisted us in finding housing, the woman said.

"Thank you so much for that.

"While we were here, we stayed with three different families, all of whom were incredibly warm and welcoming.

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

According to her, she and her daughter had made an effort to fit into the new culture, but she had discovered that most residents of the town had a positive attitude toward 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 the lesson quickly.  She speaks full sentences and is now settled at the school.  She is enjoying it and the teachers are very nice. ".

Olha claimed that she enjoyed Belper but missed her husband Dymitri's home city of Kiev.

"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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