When Kateryna Gorodnycha drove to the UK from her hometown in Ukraine, she still did not have her UK visa. Driving 1,800 miles from kyiv, through Poland and into Germany before arriving in Calais, Kateryna wasn’t sure she and her 13-year-old son Timur and their two cats would be able to make it.
The day she left with her life packed into her car was the day Russian missiles started falling on her hometown. She does not regret at all having taken the risk.
Settled in her new home in Pendoylan in the Vale of Glamorgan, Kateryna is one of the “lucky ones”, she says. She chose the UK simply because of the language – she speaks Ukrainian, Russian and English – and wanted to find a haven where she could speak and understand the language.
“I realized that if I went to another country in Europe, I would be helpless,” she said. “The UK was my only chance to do something and to understand what is happening around me and to be part of life.” She arrived in the UK on April 1 and in Wales two days later. Her cats had to be quarantined.
This new life so far has seen locals welcoming her and Timur with open arms, sending them both gifts and cards to help them feel comfortable. Timur even received a signed football shirt from Gareth Bale and the couple enjoyed celebrating Timur’s 13th birthday with pizza in Cardiff city centre. Kateryna was overwhelmed with the homemade cookies and cakes that arrived at her new doorstep.
Her words show how much it meant to both of them: “All the friends and neighbors of Glynis and Martin have done more for us in the past two weeks than we could have ever expected,” she said. . “They picked us up, took us where we needed…A football star gave Timur a shirt and a brand new Wales tracksuit. A family friend drove us to towns and villages for two days straight and then drove the same routes with me so I could drive. To guard us. Me. Honestly. No one ever guarded me since childhood. A new feeling. Wonderful.
It took Kateryna two days to fill out the forms and start the process on March 18, she said. “I was in the middle of Ukraine, it was pretty safe but a later missile arrived there. I filled in the forms when I realized the war wasn’t going to end anytime soon. ” Even before sending in the forms, Kateryna began her journey west: “Maybe I wasn’t too smart to do that because I wasn’t sure I would get my visas,” said- she said.
She waited in Lviv, a city on the western border of Ukraine, and just hours before they passed through Poland, Russian missiles also started falling there. “I guess there is no completely safe place in Ukraine,” Katya said.
Her journey – which lasted almost two weeks – took her to Poland, then to Germany and then to Lille in France while staying with friends and friends of friends. During his stay in Lille, his visas arrived.
“I was very lucky,” she said. “Because I have a lot of friends who are still waiting for their visas.” His only took 10 days to arrive. From Lille, she headed for Calais and took the ferry to Dover. She found Glynis Lloyd on Facebook after her friend, the BBC’s Ukraine editor, told her about a group set up to match refugees with British hosts. After posting a description of herself and her son, Glynis offered her a home. It was a perfect match, Kateryna said, as Glynis said it might be possible for her to work as a producer and her football-loving son would be close to the Welsh national football team. .
“I thought it looked like paradise,” Kateryna said. “It was really exactly the right decision, because we are really, really happy to be here.” Her son’s father remained in Ukraine.
“My life is starting over from the beginning,” Kateryna said. “I’m 43 and it’s kind of weird doing something like this for the first time.” Her son is enjoying the experience of a new country, a new school and new friends, she added, saying they used to travel to different countries in Europe before the invasion Russian. He is very enthusiastic about learning Welsh.
Her Facebook profile shows her living a normal cosmopolitan life in Ukraine that many of us would recognize – traveling, relaxing in her hometown, dining with friends – something that is now a distant memory.
She would return to her home country, but that would depend “on the outcome of the end of the war”, she said. “If somehow Russia dominates our territory, I don’t want to live in tyranny,” she said. “So I accept the idea of staying here, but I cannot accept the idea that Ukraine will fall.”
A history graduate and a successful producer before the war began, Kateryna still can’t believe how far her country has fallen. For all the latest news on what’s happening in Ukraine, read more here.
“I’m a historian by training, so I knew we were definitely not brothers with Russia, I knew we definitely had a huge history of struggle and threat from the Russian empire, but I couldn’t even imagine that ‘in the 21st century we could have such a barbaric war. I thought it might be political pressure trying to manipulate, but not missiles over my house.
“Who could imagine what we are seeing? This is something from history. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a war of civilizations. Barbarians against progress, tyranny against democracy. In the modern world, in the 21st century, it is unthinkable to imagine that a European country can be bombarded with Russian rockets, Ukrainian children can be killed, our women – and our children, unfortunately too – can be raped by enemy soldiers, and Russian television broadcasts propaganda.
“In Russia, they have created a country with a population that wants to kill neighbors in order to demonstrate its dominance to the world. Nothing more.”
She has a friend from Bucha who chose to drive through Russian roadblocks in a desperate attempt to escape the massacre. They wore pans on their heads to protect themselves from Russian bullets, she said. She used metal baking trays to protect her children inside the car.
“She’s from this place where horrible things happened,” Kateryna said. “She was under occupation for a week but she was lucky to leave before these horrible things. Now she is in Ukraine, but in the west.” The wait for her UK visa is taking so long that she wonders if she should apply for a Canadian visa instead, in case it speeds things up.
“She told me she couldn’t go home because she didn’t know if her home existed,” Kateryna said.
Stories like this are unfortunately not uncommon, as more than 10 million Ukrainian refugees have fled their home country, according to the UN. Vladimir Putin seems determined to continue his barbaric war despite pressure from NATO and the world.
For Kateryna, her visa application took only 10 days. for others who applied on March 18 when UK visa applications opened, they are still waiting. The lack of certainty means many simply cannot plan anything. Katya’s friend has been waiting for 17 days. “She doesn’t know what to do,” she added. “People are waiting for visas, sometimes too long, and they’re really frustrated with it.”
People have been frustrated by the British government’s “embarrassing” process of taking in Ukrainian refugees. Learn more about it here. It’s a frustration shared by Glynis as well, who strongly criticizes the council’s prior assessment of her home to determine if it’s suitable. She said: “They have to check window heights and room sizes. But I don’t think people who come here are going to worry about that sort of thing. The bureaucracy gets in the way – if people are willing to help , then let them help.”
She accepted Kateryna and Timur ahead of Vale board checks, adding, “I can have whoever I want in my house. If I can give shelter to someone who needs it, I will.” The impact Glynis has had on her two Ukrainian guests is palpable, even though life on a Welsh farmhouse is different from life in the Ukrainian capital, Kateryna said. “There was a lot of action around us but there is silence around us now,” she laughed. “It’s not a difference between Ukraine and Wales, it’s the difference between a megacity and a farm.”
She added: “Today we are forced to use help and support from all over the world. And Ukrainians are very grateful to have the opportunity to keep their children away from bombs and missiles.
“When Ukraine defeats this invasion of evil, we will return home, rebuild our country and invite all our new friends to visit us.”
The Vale of Glamorgan board has been contacted for comment.
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