Grateful Ukrainian family rebuild their lives near 'very beautiful' Hartlepool

A Ukrainian mother and her nine-year-old son are rebuilding their lives after finding a new home near Hartlepool.

Sunday, 3rd July 2022, 3:34 pm
Hesleden resident Dawn Young (middle) with Ukrainian refugee Svitlana and her son Illia.
Hesleden resident Dawn Young (middle) with Ukrainian refugee Svitlana and her son Illia.

It has been less than two months since Svitlana Kurinna, 38, and her son Illia Kurinnyi, nine, left their home in Pereyaslav-Khmel'nyts'kyi, near Kyiv, and arrived in Hesleden, where they now live with their sponsor, Dawn Young.

Svitlana had never been abroad and does not speak English.

But she is already working at a local farm and Illia has made plenty of friends at school.

Illia has made lots of friends and is a successful pupil.

Svitlana has said she likes the area “a lot” and has described the people as “very kind”.

Speaking through an interpreter, she said: “I am very grateful to Dawn and to Great Britain. I appreciate the help Ukrainians have received from this country. It’s great.”

Until the war, Svitlana had a “normal, good” life back in Ukraine, where she worked at a factory making car parts.

But as air raid sirens started sounding in her town, she decided straight away to leave her home country because of her son’s safety.

Svitlana and Illia are rebuilding their lives in Hesleden.

"My mum gave me a call and said ‘war started’. I couldn’t believe it,” said Svitlana, who is divorced.

“I didn’t hear bombs, but every day I heard sirens. I tried not to panic and stay calm because I didn’t want to scare my child.”

Svitlana was prepared to run and hide and put blankets and pillows in the bathroom, which was away from any windows and appeared safer.

She added: “Of course I was scared. Every day, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Svitlana, Illia and Dawn got on really well and go together for walks and cycle rides.

Two months after the start of the war, Svitlana and Illia got on a bus from Kyiv to Warsaw, in neighbouring Poland, where they boarded a plane to London and then to Newcastle.

They arrived in Hesleden on May 3 to a house full of toys and clothes for both of them, which kind residents had donated.

Two days later, Illia started school in Hesleden Primary School and in a few weeks Svitlana got a job at Dene Leazes farm with the help of Dawn and local farmer Eric Stephenson.

Svitlana has also been studying English for five weeks, getting lessons online and face-to-face in Sunderland.

Illia is taking swimming lessons at the Mill House Leisure Centre, in Hartlepool, and plays basketball with Hartlepool Huskies.

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Describing Hartlepool as a “very beautiful town”, Svitlana added: “Illia feels very good here. He feels happy at school. He’s a very successful pupil and gets a certificate at the end of the week.”

Despite their busy lives, Svitlana says she worries about her family back in Ukraine.

Her 65-year-old parents stayed behind as her dad has a heart disease and can’t make the journey.

Svitlana’s sister, 42, is a nurse and works in a military hospital.

Svitlana speaks to her mum every day and says it’s still dangerous as warning sirens keep going off regularly.

“I would definitely want to go back if the war ends,” she added.

“I miss Ukraine very much, I miss my relatives.”

However, Svitlana has said she doesn’t feel alone in England.

Since arriving in Hesleden, she, Illia and Dawn ‘got on really well’ and have been experiencing each other’s cultures and making meals for each other.

They also go out together for walks and on cycle rides and Dawn has put Svitlana in touch with Ukrainian groups in the area.

Dawn, 55, who is originally from Hartlepool before moving to Hesleden 15 years ago, said: “Svitlana is adorable and Illia is even more adorable.

“We’ve been to the beach. We go on walks, go on cycle rides.

“We go out for meals.”

The retired police officer added: “I was really sad at what was going on in Ukraine and I thought if it had happened to us in England and I was put in that position I would be absolutely distraught.

“I feel as though I live in this big house by myself, in a way it’s my duty to help another human being.”

Both Svitlana and Dawn have praised local people for their generosity and warm welcome, with Svitlana saying she was surprised with the outpouring of support.

Dawn said: “We’ve had a lot of support from members of the public in the area, Hartlepool, Blackhall, Wingate, who have donated clothes, toys. One lady gave her a voucher for Primark, which was lovely.

“It’s quite overwhelming the support from members of the public.”

As I get ready to leave, Svitlana tells me: “Dawn is like my sister. I don’t feel alone here.”

If you would like to help people fleeing Ukraine, you can become a sponsor under the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme.

The service launched in March and helps match sponsors with a Ukrainian person or family.

According to government figures, 92,700 visas have been issued under the scheme as of June 21.

To be able to take part, you have to be able to offer a spare room or home for at least six months.

Potential sponsors also need to be British citizens, or have leave to remain in the UK for at least six months, and have no criminal record.

Someone from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) will then get in touch.

The local authority will also contact potential sponsors and carry out disclosure and barring service (DBS) checks, as well as visit your property to make sure it meets the requirements.

If you know who you want to sponsor, you can help them apply for a visa under the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme instead.