'I was checking his bag and found his first party invitation'
We catch up with a Ukrainian family who arrived in Northampton two months ago
By Natalie Bloomer
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In May, NN Journal told the story of a Ukrainian family stuck in Krakow waiting for the UK government to process their young son’s visa so they could join a sponsor family in Northampton.
The family experienced a gruelling 72 hour journey from their home town of Starobilsk in the Eastern region of Luhansk to the safety of Poland. Once there, they found a sponsor family in Northampton and parents Viktoria and Ossama soon received their UK visas but three weeks on their five-year-old son Karim had still not been given permission to travel.
The family had all but given up hope of coming to England and the night before our story was published they travelled from Krakow to France to register as refugees there. They made an appointment to complete the French paperwork at 11am the following day but at 10.50am they received a call to say Karim’s visa was finally ready.
Two months on we catch up with them again to see how they’re settling into life in Northamptonshire.
“We travelled to the UK the same night we got the visa and Anjona [the family’s sponsor] came to pick us up. Things are a million times better than the last time we spoke,” Viktoria says.
“From the first second we met Anjona our life has been amazing. Her family is great too, they support us at every point and treat us as family.”
Anjona and her family have helped Viktoria and Ossama to set up bank accounts, complete paperwork and apply for a school place for Karim. He is one of more than 150 Ukrainian children to join a school in West Northamptonshire since the war broke out.
“He has been in reception class for one month and we are so happy. The teachers and the children are great and he really enjoys it. I was checking his bag on Friday night and found his first party invitation - this was such great news for us, I told the parents he will definitely be there!”
Back in Ukraine Viktoria had a successful business as a translator and she is thrilled that she has been able to continue that here. She initially looked at working for an agency but has since decided to go it alone.
“I cancelled my sole trader status in Ukraine and have registered here instead. It’s going very well, I use various websites to look for clients and I’m very happy with how it’s going.”
The family feared that finding suitable work for Ossama who is a chef would be more difficult as he does not yet speak the language very well. However, despite some initial issues with a recruitment agency he has recently received a good job offer.
“He never planned to come here, this is something we never predicted so his language isn’t so good yet but he managed to start some cleaning work and now we have just been told he can start a new job as a chef in a restaurant in Northampton town centre where many of the staff speak Russian [Many people from the family’s home town in Ukraine can speak Russian].”
Northamptonshire has now welcomed more than 800 Ukrainian refugees with around 470 in the west of the county and 325 in the north. Support has come from both the councils and the local communities with various groups set up to offer help.
The government’s Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme has attracted thousands of potential hosts around the country but for some it hasn’t always been as plain sailing as Viktoria and her family’s experience. The Guardian recently reported how some Ukrainian refugees were facing homelessness after their relationship with the host family broke down.
“We have heard of some host/guest breakdowns and we hope that guests in this situation get the support that they need,” the family’s sponsor Anjona Roy says.
“The process of applying for national insurance numbers, bank accounts and registering at doctors has been a seemingly endless stream of waiting around and form filling. We are also aware that the application process has now changed and it is more difficult for couples who are Ukrainian and another nationality to come over at this time [Ossama lived in Ukraine but is not originally from the country]. If Viktoriia, Ossama and Karim were applying now, they would find it a lot more difficult, if at all possible.”
The family are now looking to the future and hoping to one day be able to secure their own family home. For Viktoria, a negative is having to leave her family behind in Ukraine.
“Everything is perfect here with Anjona and her family but my parents and grandparents are still back there and there is no improvement in their situation.
“I struggle to send them money because there are no ATMs. The Ukrainian government told them not to collaborate with the Russsians and by that they mean not to work in Russian controlled areas. They said they would cover public sector workers’ pay if they stayed at home but that money has stopped now. What can they do? They have to go back to work, they can not leave the area, they have to work to live.
“When I call them, my mother and grandmother cry. I try not to while I’m on the phone to them but later once Ossama and Karim are asleep, I cry for my family.”