Joy as Ukrainian family of 10 who fled war move into new UK home

They escaped from their home city of Kharkiv after days trapped in a basement amid bombing

A Ukrainian family of 10 who spent almost three weeks travelling to the UK have moved into a country home provided by a Cambridgeshire businessman.

The family, who range in age from 10 to 90, fled their home city of Kharkiv after five days hiding in a basement and were granted British visas under the Ukraine Family Scheme.

Great-grandmother Ludmila Starkova, the matriarch of the clan, wiped away tears of sadness and relief after she walked through the doors of her new home in the village of Caldecote.

Mick Swinhoe, an executive at an industrial automation company, bought the property only weeks ago to use as a “project house” but decided to offer it to refugees after Russian invaded Ukraine.

Mr Swinhoe, 52, who lives nearby, said he wanted his investment to be used for “something more useful until I do something else with it”.

“It’s a better use for it, really,” he said. “I can do what I want to do later when things get better.”

The family were helped by their relative Roman Starkov, a British citizen who has been in the UK for 20 years and now lives in Cambridge.

Eight of the family members travelled to the UK by taking a flight from Albania to London's Luton Airport while Mr Starkov’s sister, Valeria Starkova, 37, and his father, Mykola, 59, came by car.

The pair opted for a car and ferry journey so they could bring more of their belongings and their two dogs, Yorkshire terrier Mikki and mini Maltese Florie.

Ms Starkova said she and her relatives were “exhausted” after spending 20 days travelling from Kharkiv to the UK.

She said when the war broke out in her home city, “it was 5am, we packed a few suitcases and I went to my mum’s home and we stayed there for five days as it was so scary to go outside”.

“We were in the basement,” she said. “We couldn’t go outside. We stayed for five days in the basement without going anywhere.

“Then we decided that we had to leave as we couldn’t sleep, it was so scary. We just put our bags in the cars and went.

“We were so afraid someone would shoot our car or something like that. Recently, friends of my friends were shot like that.

“It was so scary but we managed to go through the borders and when we passed several cities we felt relieved as we couldn’t hear those bombs and those scary noises.

“The first night we slept it was so quiet.”

Mr Starkov, 38, helped his family through the visa process after they had arrived in Albania.

“You have to fill out arcane forms and for such a big group there’s a lot of repetition, but once that was sorted we went to a visa application centre, they processed us very quickly, that was in Albania,” the software developer said.

He said his grandmother did not have a valid international passport and had wanted to stay in Ukraine.

“On every border that was a challenge,” he said. “Fortunately every single border they figured something out and allowed her to pass.”

Quote
We were so afraid someone would shoot our car or something like that. Recently, friends of my friends were shot like that
Valeria Starkova, Ukrainian refugee

Mr Starkov has “mixed emotions” about his family’s safe journey to the UK.

“Yes, they are safe, that’s amazing,” he said. “They’ve still lost everything.

“There’s still hope that maybe they can go back and maybe what they left behind will still be there. Maybe not.

“And there’s a lot of uncertainty about their future here. Will they fit in, will they find a place, will they feel comfortable? I don’t know.”

A man assesses a crater in the road after heavy Russian shelling in Kharkiv. EPA

The mother of two, who worked as a nail technician before the Russian invasion, said she felt like Mr Swinhoe and others who had helped were “saving our lives”.

“Otherwise. I don’t know where we would stay because it’s quite expensive and OK, we could for a couple of weeks, but we need to live every day and we need to find a job first,” she said.

“I’m so grateful for everyone who supports us and can give us some place to live. I really appreciate it.”

Updated: March 24, 2022, 11:03 AM
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