By Kateryna, a young doctor from Ukraine, now living in the UK.
Before the war, I was a doctor, a paediatrician. I can say that my life had just started.
I’d finished my studies, and I’d worked for two years. I was financially stable. I was going to get a car. I had a lot of plans, I wanted to travel, I wanted to support my parents.
I worked in the biggest children’s hospital in Ukraine, we had so many different cases. I had my own patients who trusted me, the best colleagues ever, the best team ever. I was so proud of myself to be in this position. I had a lot of friends.
The only thing I regret is I didn’t visit my parents a lot. They live in the north west, near the Belarus and Poland border, it’s six hours by bus. When I had a choice to work or go to my parents, I always chose work. Now I tell everyone, if you have this opportunity, just go!
We didn’t expect the war. We talked about it, but I wasn’t prepared. I couldn’t understand how in the 21st century they could do that, we were neighbours. On our TV, they told us to prepare a backpack, to have documents just in case, and we were laughing, why would we do that?
I remember I was sleeping, I had prepared to go to work. I woke up, and I remember it was really loud, these two loud explosions. I couldn’t understand, I thought something had fallen.
I received a call from my Dad. I could hear his voice was different, but he just told me, take your backpack, your documents, just leave. He’d been in the USSR army, he was a soldier in Vladivostok, in Russia, all of our guys then were soldiers in the USSR. He knows they can be cruel and violent. I just listened to him.
We called our friends, our families, there were a lot of calls – just to ask, how are you? Are you OK? There were queues at cash machines, at the pharmacy, a lot of people panicking, it was incredible.
On 26th February I went to the Polish border with a friend.
Watch Kateryna sharing her story.
We spent 30 hours at the border, it was very stressful. The most terrible moment for me was – I could see big buses of children leaving their dads, I remember them saying goodbye to their fathers.
A lot of cars, if the girls couldn’t drive, the husbands or their fathers just pushed the car through the border, and said goodbye, and came back. A lot of them were crying.
What scared me was some shooting, in the sky, a lot of people lay down under the cars. I was on the phone to my parents, I didn’t know what to do. They said that it was a drone, and they tried to shoot down the drone, and it scared us all.
The Polish people were very kind. I couldn’t cry when I was in Ukraine, but when I crossed the border, I just broke down. I went to Katowice, from there I could get a flight to Doncaster.
I can’t even remember that flight. I was sitting in the airport and crying, like really crying. And a guy sitting near me, he was from Kazakhstan, and he just gave me some chocolate, and said – I can’t change anything, but I hope this chocolate will make you feel better!
I came to the UK on a visitor’s visa. I was lucky because I had this visitor’s visa, because I’d already been to visit my friend in the UK, at Christmas. I came back to Doncaster on 25th February.
The border guards in the UK were really kind too. They could understand my shock. They were good people, they asked if I needed anything. Everyone else had left, and I was sitting in a small room because they were checking, and they couldn’t understand what to do with me, because obviously I wasn’t a visitor, I was already maybe a refugee! I forgot all of my English words, I was really stressed.
They needed to decide what kind of stamp to put in my passport. I was sitting and waiting.
In my mind, it was two weeks maximum. I didn’t have any clothes, just one backpack, I wasn’t prepared at all. I hoped that it would be fine, that it’s actually not real! I had a short-term visa, for six months.
I was absolutely sure I would go back, but after two weeks it was even worse. I couldn’t understand what to do, I was absolutely lost. I’d lost everything. My friend sent me a picture, our apartment had broken windows. It’s happening there still and I just can’t go back at all.
During this time UK government announced the Homes for Ukraine scheme, so my friend was OK to use this opportunity. Still I wasn’t prepared. I was given a bit of money by Doncaster Council, and helped by my friend’s parents, and the Ukraine Centre.
It took me a long time to accept the situation. I was in a dark place, a hole. I remember my birthday was 4th of March, first week after the war started. I was really stressed, I couldn’t even speak to anybody, I was crying all the time, I couldn’t sleep, I checked the news every few seconds, I had this big anxiety. I called the GP and I asked, can you give me something to help? He prescribed me pills to become calm and sleep. I went to the pharmacy, and they gave me pills with a message “happy birthday!” I had forgotten it was even my birthday.
It took me a long time to adjust. I wanted to go back so much. My parents said you need to stay, you can help from there.
Then I started to have English classes which helped a lot. I had a group, they were guys from Syria, from Afghanistan, from all these countries. They told me that it’s normal to be a bit like this. People without war, even just moving to another country, it takes years to adjust, and I shouldn’t expect to do everything immediately.
I met Charlotte from the Refugee Council, she made me feel relaxed, she said it will be fine, and I believed her. Thanks to her, I found a job. Rebecca was also really nice, helping me with everything.
I’m working part time as a bilingual support officer for Doncaster Council, helping Ukrainian children. I’m also studying for an exam in medical English, so I can apply for a programme which helps refugee doctors to become doctors in the UK.
Now I’m more sensitive about refugees from other part of the world. Before, I couldn’t understand, I thought it’s just something political. We were watching that on the TV and it was far away, we couldn’t understand at all. I was closed minded.
But now I can see all these people, from Syria, from Afghanistan, from all these countries. They really understand me. Now I feel more close to them. They are travelling much worse journeys than mine.
The worst thing is the children. I’m an adult, I have all this trauma. I will remember all this detail for many years, but I can only imagine for the children, it’s their childhood.
I met a Ukrainian girl, at school, I was working with a 9 year old girl there. The teacher said she’s crying, can you ask her what happened? So I asked her, why are you crying? She said, I was in PE and I fell over, my leg isn’t hurt, and I don’t know why I’m crying! I can understand that. I just don’t know why I’m crying!
I just want to say thank you to all the UK and British people, for the support. I want them to know that I’m very thankful.