Ukrainian refugees feature in UNHCR’s ‘Uprooted’ film
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Mariia Kartashova sat in a basement with her children for 20 days before running away from Chernihiv. On a bus headed to Warsaw, Poland, she wondered what her family’s fate would be. Her husband was staying behind, working as a paramedic in the army, and it was up to her to keep their kids, aged nine and 11, safe. The journey toward a British home was long but eventually worth it. She now feels supported “down to the smallest detail” by those who so eagerly opened their doors to her and her two sons. Yet, adjusting is not easy.
Mariia said the tragic scenes she fled from in Ukraine are stuck deep in her mind. When she arrived, she explained, she “got scared when the washing machine turned on the spin mode because the sound was like the whistle of a missile”.
She told Express.co.uk: “We live near Heathrow Airport, and at first I was worried about low-flying planes. My youngest child shuddered.
“But we have been here for two months now, and now I even like planes. It is interesting to watch how an iron bird flies over you.”
Nearly one-third of Ukrainians have been forced from their homes since the Russian invasion of their country began in late February. The more than eight million refugee movements recorded out of the war-torn nation as of mid-June make this today’s largest human displacement crisis in the world.
As of June 27, while a total of 142,500 visas have been issued, some 86,600 people have arrived in the UK through one of the Government’s programmes – 27,800 via the Ukraine Family Scheme and 58,800 via the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme (also known as Homes for Ukraine).
For Mariia, the process from contact with her sponsor to landing took just under a month, and while difficulties arose along the way, she said she was all the while “surprised that somewhere in the world there are people who are not indifferent” to where she and her sons would end up.
She said: “I wrote to the sponsor at night on the bus, and surprisingly, he answered an hour later and said that they were waiting for us.
“When I arrived in Warsaw, I already knew that they were waiting for me in England.
“But it turned out not to be so simple. It was very difficult to fill out the form because the questions were not always formulated correctly.
“Questions on the visa form puzzled even my sponsor, but what about the Ukrainians who fill it out with Google translator?”
“We waited a very long time for a visa, almost a month, but the whole time, the sponsor kept in touch with us, supporting us, and we got to know each other better.”
While stressing that “support is felt everywhere at all stages”, she said finding a job is reliant on all — often complex — bureaucracy being sorted. Although her visa stated she had the right to work, she needed a National Insurance number (NI), to be registered with a GP, and a biometric residence permit (BRP) before someone was ready to hire her.
In Ukraine, Mariia had a shoe shop. Now, while she works in retail, what brings her purpose is writing.
She said: “I do not know what I want, I do not make plans for the future, because a few months ago all my plans collapsed.
“My husband told me, ‘save my children’. And that’s what I’m doing now, because he can only do his duty knowing that we’re safe.
“I do not know whether my husband will be alive, whether my house will be intact. Therefore, I live here and now.
“The children go to school and football – one day, just today.”
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She feels neither joy nor sadness, Mariia said. And when she told her sponsor about this detachment, they suggested she put her thoughts onto paper. And so she is doing.
The story of her three weeks sheltered in a besieged city is to become a book which she intends to entitle This could not be imagined. Ukraine.
Each chapter, she explained, delves into one day hidden from Russia’s aggression.
She said writing is “like a straw that connects me with life”.
The mother-of-two added: “I want to describe everything in detail, down to the smallest detail, so that as many people as possible can read and understand what the people who still remain in besieged cities in Ukraine feel.”
Surprised by its “large number of trees, as I thought it was an industrial country all rolled up in asphalt, but it turns out to be green, with many parks and trees”, Mariia said the UK is allowing her and her kids to “live, learn and write in safety”.
Support Mariia’s project, This could not be imagined. Ukraine, here.
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