Sofiya Kravchenko

28-year-old Sofiya left her hometown of Irpin when war broke out. She travelled to Chippenham, Wiltshire where her sponsor, Ruth, gave her a safe home.

This is Sofiya’s story in her own words.

Hello! My name is Sofiya and I am currently in England. My journey here wasn’t easy.

I lived in Irpin, and on the 11th day of the war, I decided to leave my town. We (I and my friend with two children of hers, who were 8 and 12 years old) spent two and a half days travelling to Western Ukraine. For us, like many other citizens of our country, this journey was thorny and long. But eventually we arrived in Mukachevo, where we were met by friends and given shelter to stay during our first days there.

After collecting information, talking with locals and refugees like us, we realised that the chance of staying there and earning a living was almost zero. When the war broke out, I lost my job, like many others, and later my apartment in Irpin became uninhabitable. We made the decision to go abroad. After analysing the options, we settled on Germany, because it seemed to be the country with the highest level of social welfare.

A refugee camp in Germany

After some short wanderings around Germany, we ended up in a refugee camp. Previously, it had been military barracks, which were converted into a camp back in 2015. We were settled in rooms and quarantined, since the pandemic had passed only in Ukraine by that time. After some time, the quarantine was lifted, and we had a chance to look around. It turned out that in that place, there were refugees from all over the world—from Africa, Syria, Ukraine, etc. Within the first ten days, we received the documents so that we could go out into the city.

In the camp, we had a large area for outdoor walks, and we had meals three times a day. It was much better there than in Ukraine at that time, and I am grateful for this help. However, after the first month of our stay in the country, we finally realised that it would take at least six months to get the documents for work and a temporary residence permit. This made me feel sad. Because if you do nothing, then you think a lot and read a lot of news, which does not add goodness to life.

A chance to go to England

And then on Easter, quite randomly, my cousin Oleksii got in touch and in the conversation invited me to apply for a visa to England. I had always known that it was not so easy to obtain a visa in peacetime. But it turned out that special conditions were now in place for Ukrainians. It would be a shame to refuse such a gift of fate!

And we started the process of looking for a sponsor. An important additional condition had to be observed: my sponsor had to live not far from Iryna, my cousin’s wife, who was already, one might say, halfway to England. She did not fly alone, but with two children, the youngest of whom was only a few months old. We decided that it would be very good if I could live nearby and help with the baby.

For a very long time we could not find a sponsor for me, even when all the managers of the organisation BHSU, which was helping us, and the English party (Iryna’s sponsors) had joined the process.

In the land of red tape

During this period, I was still in Germany and there was another relocation on the horizon, this time to a hostel for Ukrainians. That was much better than the refugee camp. There were some inconveniences regarding the location, but we coped with them. The nearest shop was three kilometres away, buses ran every hour, except weekends. The local authorities tried every possible way to improve our living situation. The former mayor brought bicycles, and a mini shop opened on the hostel grounds. But it still took a long time to get the documents. Germany is a country of red tape: to have one document issued, you need to fill out eight.

A person with a big heart

The search for a sponsor continued for another month, and in that time bad thoughts crept in: ‘Maybe this is not for me, maybe I need to think again…’ And then, like the sun from behind a cloud in bad weather, Ruth appeared. She was not a member of the UK sponsoring community—just a person with a big heart! Friends asked if she would like to take part in the programme and help someone from Ukraine, and she agreed.

Then there were two weeks of checks by the British authorities, and finally we scheduled the first video call on Zoom. I was very worried: will they like me or not, what should I ask, what should I tell them about myself? My knowledge of English is not at a high level, but Olena from BHSU came to the rescue: she helped me throughout the whole time, and she was my translator and my support. Sure enough, I was nervous and forgot all the words and questions, but in the end everything went well.

A week later, we got in touch again—this time the call was needed to fill out the documents for obtaining a visa. We checked all the details and exchanged phone numbers with my sponsor. While the paperwork was going on, we talked.

Note: Talk to your sponsors—just like us, they are nervous and worried, and we can come to the right decisions only through dialogue. Once you have received your letter from the Visa Application Centre, be sure to discuss your itinerary with your sponsor. They know England better and will be able to suggest a more comfortable route for you. In this matter as well, I would not have coped without Olena, who provided all possible assistance.

A warm British welcome

A little advice in case you are going to travel by plane: in the UK, there are always some airport employees in front of customs control—ask them where to go with a Ukrainian passport; this way, it will work faster.

There is also a help point for Ukrainians at the airport. The people there will help you obtain bus or train tickets to go to your sponsors—within 48 hours after arriving in the country, this is free of charge. In addition, they will not let you go without a cup of coffee or at least a glass of water there. I felt incredibly warm from such a welcome!

Me, Ruth and our neighbour Anastasiya, also a migrant from Ukraine

I don’t know about anyone else, but for me my sponsor is the best! I had not received so much warmth, quietude, and care for a long time… You know, when I arrived at the house where I would live for the next six months, there were small accessory sets already waiting for me in the bathroom and in the kitchen, so that I would not worry about anything during the first week.

I have been staying with Ruth for two weeks now, and I can say with certainty that I am lucky. I have plans to work and study in this country, but that will come a bit later. As of now, I help Iryna with her son and live in peace and comfort. I am immensely grateful to Oleksii and Olena for their help and support, as well as to Ruth and everyone who helped me come to the UK and start a new life here!