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‘Life as we knew it ended when Russia invaded'

[Press center3] time:2023-05-30 19:16:31 source:BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation) author:Press center6 click:103order

A year since Russia invaded Ukraine, life looks very different for the thousands of young Ukrainians who left their homes to seek safety in the UK.

Many of those who travelled ended up in London, which already has a large Ukrainian community.

Twelve months on, the war continues and they still don't know when they will be back.

"It's not my home, not my country, but I'm making a new life here," says 23-year-old Nikita Vikhorev.

"Sometimes I can't believe that I'm living in London, I can visit Westminster or I can go to Kings Cross and see the Platform 9 ¾," he smiles, referring to the fictional part of the railway station from the Harry Potter series.

Unlike most Ukrainian men, Nikita was able to leave the country and avoid being conscripted due to the efforts of the London Performing Academy of Music (LPMAM).

After war began the academy worked hard to bring over 50 Ukrainian music students to safety and offered bursaries, enabling them to continue their studies.

Male students like Nikita and singer and guitarist Andrii Barannik were provided with legal letters by LPMAM requesting military exemption.

Without these, they would have been banned from leaving Ukraine and likely called up to fight on the front line.

"My dad said to me you can go to the army or you can go to the UK," Andrii explains.

The 21-year-old's father is a soldier fighting in Ukraine and his mother and sister are still there too, in their hometown of Kharkiv, close to the border with Russia.

He says he decided to move to "try to continue our culture", but adds "it was a hard decision" to make.

"At night, I lie on my bed and think about young guys, they're fighting on the front," he says, covering his face with his hands at the thought.

Nikita also worries about what has happened to the people he knew back home. One of his friends who is fighting in Ukraine was taken prisoner in Mariupol last March.

"We don't know where he is, we have no information, he is a prisoner of Russians and I know absolutely nothing," he says.

How does he feel then, about being here in London instead of on the battlefield?

"I know I can't fight, so my violin is my weapon," he explains.

"My mission is to use my music to help people to care about Ukraine."

Another refugee who is interested in spreading Ukrainian culture is 20-year-old Arina Koroletska.

She is currently living in temporary accommodation with her mother and sister, who she left Ukraine with.

A singer, Arina is continuing her studies in music and has found opportunities to perform through a Ukrainian social club in Twickenham.

The club was first set up in Prosperity, a Ukrainian restaurant in the area, and has since expanded and moved into a local church hall where it hosts classes and activities for all ages.

The group meets every Friday afternoon and Arina leads the choir there, singing British and Ukrainian songs.

"I'm very happy here", she says, "we perform, we try to show English people our culture."

Seventeen-year-old Oleksandra Shuliatieva also attends and takes part in traditional Ukrainian folk dance. She says it has helped her to make friends and find new opportunities.

"I want to be a dancer," she says. "We do lots of performances, meet lots of people, try to give a good mood."

Oleksandra is from Horenka, a small village close to Kyiv. She's been told 70% of the buildings there have been destroyed.

"When I saw this, I felt horrible… This is my home and I don't want to leave it."

She has relatives in the military, and says she's "so proud" of her uncle and cousin who are "protecting the country".

But she misses her dad, who remained in Ukraine and she considers to be her "best friend".

Speaking about how things have changed since February 2022, she says she's staying positive and embracing her new life in the UK capital.

"I've found new friends, a job, a city that's not like my home, but it's OK to stay for now," she says.

For Yuliia Kuznetsova, settling into a new life in London has been "not difficult, but different".

The 25-year-old was living in Lviv with her husband and had a job she loved, when war broke out.

"Life as we knew it ended on 24 February, it's never going to be the same," she says.

She has been living with a sponsor since she arrived in the UK last April, and is planning to move into her own place.

"I do miss home, but at the same time I have to remember that the home I miss doesn't exist anymore," she adds.

When the war first broke out Yuliia says she didn't want to leave, despite the anxiety caused by constant air raid sirens and time spent in bomb shelters during the first month of the war.

But her family decided that one person should "go abroad, to a safer place, and try to settle down", to continue the family line.

Meanwhile her mother remained in Ukraine, and her father and husband are fighting on the front line.

Despite everything they've had to leave behind, this group are full of hopes for the future.

The musicians want to continue to share their culture, and alongside dancing, Oleksandra says she has dreams of starting a Ukrainian restaurant.

"If you do the restaurant I will come all the time and play the music," Andrii tells her, before adding: "And eat a lot of borscht!"

Watch the full interview on BBC Three's The Catch Up.

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(editor-in-charge:Press center3)

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