It was just a normal life – family, husband, two daughters. Before the war, the youngest one was ten.
I was running – with my husband – a family business. It’s a sewing factory producing clothes, specialising for military, Ministry of Defence, the last six or seven years. The factory, it’s still working, my husband carries on, I try and help as much as possible from a distance.
Before the war, it was a very successful business, every season, every year. It’s hard work, the family, house, sports, travelling…
On 24th of February I woke up, I heard some noise, explosions, I just woke up and I called my husband and asked him ‘where are you?’ He said ‘I’m in a big queue at a petrol station.’ He said the war has started.
My children arrived, they woke up very early, got dressed and came to me, and asked – ‘Mum, what’s going on? Are we going to school?’ I had no idea, I couldn’t understand what was going on.
I needed to talk to my workers in the factory. I said, “OK, the war is started, but we’re in the centre of Ukraine, definitely Russian soldiers can’t reach us so quickly. Let’s carry on working.”
A few days later, I told my workers to stay at home. Some of them were worried. They have children, they don’t know what to do, where to go.
Myself and my husband carried on working every single day. Volunteers asked us to make warm underwear, it was very cold, and the country wasn’t prepared for the many people who applied to be soldiers.
In March I realised that it’s not only about safety, it’s about education. My oldest one, she’s almost finishing school, she’s 16. War or not, I have to give her an education, we have to do something.
We arrived in the UK on the 28th April. A family whose children had attended school with my nephew called my sister and told her they’d like to help a Ukrainian family. They are lovely family, they have two kids, boys, more or less the same age as my youngest.
I have a great relationship with Refugee Council’s case workers. Any questions I ask them they answer straight away, they are helpful with everything to be honest. They organised a women’s sewing club, working club, they are so amazing.
I am busy with my college trying to improve my English. I try to keep myself busy as much as possible. In the evening I have sports clubs, those clubs gave us free memberships.
We made the decision to come to UK calmly, for us it was more or less understandable and it wasn’t a surprise. But generally, most people who arrive are women with small children, and obviously it’s hard. Sponsors didn’t realise how it could be. Families with very young small children arrive, or the children have illness, or it’s noisy or stressful, and it’s more difficult. Our sponsors have the same age children, they get on very well with each other, but in general it’s so difficult. Some people don’t have a house to go back to because it has been destroyed.
Obviously, it is very difficult, because we’re far away from our family, but we just have to realise that our life is today and right now!
I had a proper life in Ukraine, I had a good life, now it’s completely changed. I’m looking now for some space to rent, but landlords have been asking me for my credit history or a guarantor, so it’s really difficult. If I’m alone it doesn’t matter where I live, but I need to find somewhere that is also suitable for my children.
The English people I know, they really want to understand, they ask me about the latest news from Ukraine. It’s really amazing what people in the UK have done. I really appreciate it. It’s a big opportunity, especially for children.
Update: Since this interview, Anna has found her own flat and a job. After a training course with Refugee Council, she’s now working for Marks and Spencer’s.