A mother and daughter have spoken of their relief and gratitude after being given the opportunity to flee war-torn Ukraine and rebuild their lives in Cambridgeshire. Olha Hlukhodid and Alla Bortnyk took refuge last May and have happily settled into roles at East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH).
Housekeeper Olha, 66, and daughter Alla, 39, a Finance Assistant, are based at the charity’s Milton hospice. It is a far cry from the terrifying environment they left behind and both are thankful for the opportunity to start afresh.
“We’re very grateful for the support of so many English people, including everyone here at Milton,” said Olha.
“We appreciate it every minute of every day. Now we are trying to give something back by working as hard as we can. The hospice is a lovely place and everyone has tried their best to support us and make us welcome.
“It’s a pleasure to work here and I see how the staff are with the children and families. They care so much and everyone thinks of it as ‘our hospice’, because it’s a real team.
“They support every child and every single one is treated like family. This is exactly the place I need right now – somewhere people care and want to help each other.”
Olha and Alla’s connection to East Anglia dates back to Alla’s time at university, from 2003 to 2005. Although she studied at home, she came here during her summer holidays to pick fruit at Sunclose Farm, in Butt Lane, Milton.
When the war broke out, she penned a desperate email to the farmer who offered her work two decades previously. To her amazement, she received a reply and the farmer found a sponsor to help facilitate their move to Cambridgeshire.
“I could never have imagined finding myself in such a beautiful place,” said Alla, who was also able to bring her 13-year-old daughter, Veronika, to England.
“We’re so grateful to John Harrold, who still farms at Sunclose Farm, and our sponsors, Peter and Bridget Gaynord. They helped us so much and we’re very grateful.
“These people are beautiful and I have no words to describe the support and understanding they’ve shown. This is a great opportunity for me and the best place for me, my mum and daughter to start the next part of our lives. Our new lives.
“Milton is somewhere I can work hard and further myself, but also relax because all my colleagues are so friendly. Everyone always says ‘how are you?’ and if I’m feeling bad or struggling, I know I can go home.
“We have gone from somewhere so stressful, having seen many terrible things, to somewhere very beautiful. I feel that every time I look at the leaves and flowers in the gardens here.
“We’ve found peace together.”
Mr Harrold and Mr and Mrs Gaynord know each other from All Saints Church, in Milton. Kind-hearted members of the congregation helped cover the costs of the Ukrainian’s flights.
Alla, who worked in a bank for many years, and Veronika recently moved into a flat in Waterbeach and the latter is a student at Cottenham Village College.
Olha and Alla are in regular contact with family and friends back home. They are from Belopolye, in north-eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border.
“We weren’t prepared for the invasion,” said Alla, who is furthering her already impressive English by studying at Cambridge Regional College.
“No-one was and it’s been so frightening and very upsetting. Back home, there were missiles and bombs and sirens going all day and night. Can you imagine sleeping in clothes, then being woken up and having to hide underground?
“So much has been destroyed, including the local primary school. Close your eyes and imagine going to another country, carrying all your belongings in one bag. Then having to start your life all over again.
“Who knows when we’ll be able to go back home? However, we feel so fortunate to have these connections. Everything has changed and we’re so thankful. That’s why we want to do the best job we can here at Milton.
“We want to work. It’s what we’ve done all our lives and we want that to continue, so we gain new skills and knowledge. I’m always trying to learn new things and make new relationships.
“I’m also so pleased that my daughter is happy and has been able to continue her studies at Cottenham. She’s already made several new friends.
“I feel at home here now.”
Olha, who worked in a vocational training college back home, says she empathises with families being supported by EACH.
“By smiling, we are showing our support,” she said.
“People really care here. It’s a team and it’s about making things happen, rather than just speaking about them. It’s about action, not just words. It’s a chain and if one single ring breaks, the children will suffer.
“The main thing is always the children, no matter what position someone works in. It doesn’t matter if they’re nurses or finance or housekeeping, everyone wants the same thing and I like that.
“It’s a special place and special people work here. It’s exactly where I need to be. My family is safe and that means so much. Because of that, I feel lucky and optimistic.
“I hear people talk about problems but then I think about what we have experienced. There isn’t anything that can’t be overcome and I feel positive every day. That’s my motto in life.”
Both Olha and Alla have made a big impression with their new colleagues at Milton. Olha recently won an EACH Values Award, for her commitment to quality.
It was noted that she has a “heart of gold” and that her work ethic is “inspirational”.