Hanna Pyatakhina

Hanna, 44, had to leave her husband in Ukraine and made the journey from Odesa to Bristol with her children, Maksym, 11, and Dianka, 9. They were welcomed into the home of their sponsors, Neal and Jan.

This is Hanna and her family’s experience so far.

Me with my son and daughter

Anywhere that’s safe

We are a family of four: me, my husband Serghiy, our son Max (Maksym) and our daughter Dianka (Diana). We are from Odesa. 

We left Ukraine on 7 March. A close friend called me and asked, ‘Hanna, are we going?’. I thought for two hours and replied, ‘Let’s go!’. It was difficult to take the decision, mainly because of my husband. I couldn’t imagine how I would be somewhere else, and he would stay here on his own! How was I going to cope with caring for two children, where would we go, what resources I could count on, how long we would be away, how to explain everything to the children, how they would survive the trip, separation, etc. There were dozens of questions—and not a single answer! We were acting intuitively.

There was a siren on the night of 6 March. I was standing near the window, trying to calm down. I felt my hands and knees trembling and my teeth chattering with fear! I couldn’t sleep until the morning. In the morning, we decided to pack up and go just somewhere: anywhere that was safe!

We didn’t even dream about the UK

By the time we applied for a British visa, we had been living in Romania for about two months, in the beautiful city of Timisoara. Everything was fine there, and all processes were organised, except schooling for the children: they could only attend Romanian schools as irregular students, in the Romanian language. Therefore, as soon as the UK opened the door for Ukrainian mothers and children, we immediately started exploring this option. After a detailed discussion with a BHSU manager, Yuliya, there were no doubts left. We filled out the form, and a week later, we were invited to a zoom meeting with the prospective sponsors.

We took a Wizz Air flight from Timisoara airport (at the time, they had a special offer: free tickets to the UK for Ukrainians) and landed at Luton Airport. With some great support from our Romanian friends (to whom we are incredibly grateful), we spent a night in Luton, had some rest and then took a train to Bristol in the morning.

The Ukrainian flag and the keys to the house

We were allocated two proper, fully equipped rooms with a separate bathroom, on the first floor. My son has a room for himself, and I share the other one with my daughter, with separate beds. It was immediately obvious that our sponsors had been getting ready: there were toys for the children, the Ukrainian flag, fresh bed linen, cosmetics in the bathroom, towels. In the kitchen, they showed me where everything was and how it worked right away. Within the first three or four days, I felt absolutely comfortable. In the kitchen we have a whole cupboard for food and separate shelves in the refrigerator. At once, they gave us the Wi-Fi password, handed over the keys to the house and took us round the local shops and parks.

British everyday life

Our main helpers during the adaptation to life in the new country have been our sponsors, sponsors, and sponsors again! They were prepared for all questions and processes as much as possible. They accompanied us at all stages: from filling out forms to travelling to meetings at the job centre, etc.

Now, the children go to school which is a 20-minute walk from home. I attend various language courses five times a week. In September, I also started courses at a local college. In the summer, the children had an opportunity to attend summer camps. They had two-, three- and five-day programmes. This summer’s brightest impression was Oxycamp!

The charms and oddities of Great Britain

I had never been in the UK before, but I feel light here. I have an Intermediate level of English, and I can easily communicate, understand what people say to me, and I can explain everything I need. My children’s English is not as good, but they are doing their best. People here are very positive and open. They truly help us, cheer us up and try to provide all kinds of support in our everyday life.

I like everything here: the streets, parks, churches, people, nature. The Clifton Suspension Bridge is just stunning! It is very old, very beautiful and very meditative. And the double-decker buses! It’s amazing how in such a big city, buses are never crowded. They always come on time, and the drivers are always polite. In addition, the number of dogs and the love of Bristolians for their pets is impressive. How they cook here is delicious, quite delicious! In England, all kinds of food are tasty, particularly cheeses for me.

A happy British family with values that we share

Our sponsors are definitely ‘my people’. I feel at ease with them, we can discuss everything. Of course, we talk a lot about completely different topics: parenting, recipes, culture, politics, education, finance, hobbies—just everything. They are retired, but very active, open people. They travel frequently, take good care of their health, and prefer healthy food. They are hospitable, sociable, and they love animals. They have three children and four granddaughters, about the same age as my children. And their dog Marnie is the best thing that could have happened to Diana and Max. It was love at first sight! Having a dog in the house has helped my kids a lot during the adaptation process and made them feel good.

Our Ukrainian family and our British sponsors, Jan and Neal

I am happy that fate sent us Neal and Jan! . We found ourselves in a happy, stable family with values that resonate with me. Our sponsors are parents themselves and unconditionally love their children and grandchildren. They spend a lot of time with their loved ones, and I am happy to have our small women’s conversations with Jan and to discuss important things. We feel comfortable and relaxed to be part of their family, and we are very grateful for their care and help.

I am happy that fate sent us Neal and Jan!

After 197 days away from Ukraine

As I write this, I am in Ukraine, in Odesa. After 197 days of absence, we decided to come home for ten days. We all miss dad very much.

As for Britain, I am actively learning the language and trying to realise my potential at work. I have been consulting coaches and considering my employment options. Work and independence are most important now. My advice to Ukrainian immigrants is not to be afraid. The UK is ready to help, support, teach and provide care. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t understand something. There are many Ukrainians who have already settled here and can help with advice.