I lived in Kyiv, Ukraine for 10 years, I have been building my medical career and was successful. I worked in the best and the biggest children’s hospital in Ukraine and I really enjoyed my life.
On 24th of February I woke up not because of my usual alarm, but because of the the sound of explosions. A few minutes later I received a call from my father who told me to fill a backpack with my most valuable possessions and to leave the capital immediately.
The story of how I moved to the UK begins here.
It took me 12 hours to get to my parent’s house in Varash (its 350 km from Kyiv and located on the north-west of Ukraine). It was not safe there also because it is very close to the Belarus border, so to keep me safe, my parents forced me to leave the country. One of my friends was already travelling to the Polish border so I joined her. There was a massive queue of the cars on the Polish border, so it took us 34 hours to cross it.
Luckily I have a friend in the UK who invited me to stay until it will be better in Ukraine. I barely remember the journey from Katowice to Doncaster because I was absolutely exhausted. Finally, on 28th of February I arrived. The Border Guard wasn’t sure what to do with me, I was obviously the first Ukrainian to have arrived since the war started.
It is now clear, I am a refugee.
The main reason why I am writing this story is to tell you about my life in the UK. Obviously, it’s not getting better in Ukraine and I have had to make a decision on where to stay. After a couple of weeks, the British Government announced the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. Local councils are responsible for running checks on sponsors and accommodation, ensuring that placements are safe and suitable. They also have a responsibility to help the newly arrived Ukrainian citizens adapt to life in their new home. And I should say it works. For example, my local council in Doncaster is very good! They helped me a lot, provided me with English classes, helped me financially. So my friend who invited me to the UK kindly agreed to be my sponsor and in a few weeks I got the visa.
So here I would like to mention some interesting facts about my life in the UK:
Language or accent. I have travelled a lot, mostly around the Europe. I could see people’s reactions when I tried to speak their language. It was something like, “hmm, where are you from?” Or they would try to correct me often. I always felt a little bit alien because of that. But here in the UK it’s changed. My language barrier is disappearing. People here are more relaxed with that and nobody cares where are you from and if your English is excellent or not. I assume it’s because this country is full of different nationalities, races and religions. My British neighbour once said to me, “don’t worry, your English is much better than my Ukrainian.”
Almost everything in the city closes at 5.00 pm. Of course there are some supermarkets which work 24/7. But still, isn’t it early? I also noticed that British citizens are very punctual. They like to plan things and to follow their time schedules. If you have an appointment for 15 minutes – it will be exactly for 15 minutes. But how much I was surprised when my train was late once! I hope it was an exception.
Prices. Yes, I still have this habit to compare all prices with Ukrainian. I should stop doing that. The prices here sometimes actually make my eyes water. And I’m not living in London! Obviously, for example the prices for food in Ukraine is cheaper. The most expensive thing in the UK is transport. You can get a flight to Warsaw for £10-£30, but the train to London for up to £70.
Weather. That’s my pain. The weather sometimes changes every 15 minutes, like a woman’s mood. Usually it is windy, rainy and wet, but on summer it is warm. A few days ago it was extremely hot in the UK, which is very rare here. It was enough for it to be in the news everywhere around the world. Good weather is so shocking in this country. I have a new habit, I’m not leaving the house without my raincoat.
Tea with milk. When I lived in Ukraine I heard it’s a tradition in the UK, but couldn’t believe that people are really drinking tea with milk. And it’s very common here. I tried it and I like it!
Summer break for the children is just for 6 weeks. What? Ukrainian children have 3 free months of the summer.
People. There is so much to say about people!
I am so lucky to be here and to meet so much kind, open-hearted, good-natured, intelligent, pleasant, generous, and beautiful people. Their wish to help is absolutely incredible.
The Homes for Ukraine Scheme tells a lot about the British culture. People have opened their hearts and homes for strangers from different country and culture. To be honest, even I’m not sure if I could do that. So that is showing me how brave and kind the British are. Of course not all sponsors and Ukrainians are comfortable living together, but I think people are different around all over the world and you never know how it will be for you.
I have a feeling like people here are more relaxed and enjoy their lives much more than people in Ukraine. I can see people running, cycling, walking the dogs on the streets. They smile, say, “hello” and “morning” to you when even when they don’t know you. That’s incredible! I was so surprised when the women on the checkout in the supermarket just talked to me very friendly. In Kyiv, where I lived, 80% of the people I could see were tired after a long day at work, and the nicest thing for them was to get home earlier. Sometimes I was one of them, especially after a long night shift.
They just act super polite in every aspect of life
No one cares how you look like. Fashion here is not so important. I love it!
Finally, I can’t describe how much I am thankful to this beautiful country and amazing people for this massive support for Ukraine. Thank you for being united for us, being with us, praying for us and our defenders, helping us to get through these difficult times. I couldn’t resist to cry when I saw Ukrainian flags on your houses, restaurants, government buildings. We will never forget it. I am so happy to have this opportunity to say thank you!
With all my love, Kateryna
With thanks to Doncaster Town of Sanctuary and Doncaster Conversation Club.