Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Ukrainian family settling down to new life in village

Ukrainian family settling down to new life in village

A FAMILY who fled Ukraine to escape the war have now settled in Sonning Common.

Olena Prokopenko, 45, and husband, Biktor, 44, and two of their children, Dmytro, 14, and Biktor, six, moved to the village in April.

They have another daughter, Alona, 19, who is staying in the Netherlands with her boyfriend and his brother.

The family were sponsored by Michael Harper, of Sedgewell Road.

Mr Prokopenko works for dress maker Diva Catwalk in Rotherfield Greys analysing fabrics.

His wife, who was a tax inspector in Ukraine, has been given a job at the Barn Café at the Herb Farm in Peppard Road.

“I have a family and we need the money,” she said. “We are grateful we have been given a home but we must live and eat too.

“Some people refuse a job they’re offered but we’re not in a position to do that anymore and a lot of refugees don’t know English so it’s difficult to expect to get the same job they had in Ukraine.

“I never washed dishes in Ukraine but you have to do it. But it’s a nice job and my colleagues are really good to work with.”

The family lived in the capital Kyiv but moved out on February 24 when the Russian military invaded Ukraine.

They travelled to Mohyliv-Podilskyi on the border with Moldova where they stayed in a hotel until March 3 when they decided to leave for Romania.

The family were staying in a hostel in Romania when they were made aware of the sponsorship scheme to come to the UK.

They used the website host4ukraine.com to get in touch with Mr Harper and then spent a total of a month waiting for their British visas to arrive.

Once they had the paperwork, the family drove almost 1,300 miles from Romania to Sonning Common.

Mrs Prokopenko said she thinks the village is beautiful and the people have been welcoming and made her feel happy.

Caroline Cann, of Grove Road, who co-runs the café with Donna Galimore, gave Mrs Prokopenko a two-hour paid trial shift.

She then decided to employ her as she felt that she would be a good fit. Mrs Cann said: “I would always want to take on someone who needs help as it’s a good thing to do and I’m pleased that we’ve been able to do that.

“Olena is brilliant and when employers take Ukrainian workers on, they will get massive benefits because they’ll get a really hard worker.

“Anyone who takes somebody on like Olena will be very happy.

“We would have found a job for her anyway and would have
re-organised the shifts or something to get her in.”

Mrs Cann’s husband Michael, a Sonning Common parish councillor, told a council meeting last month that he believed the council should do more to help Ukrainian refugees to find work.

Biktor attends Sonning Common Primary School and despite not having very good English, he is learning more every day.

His brother Dmytro, who had a private English teacher in Ukraine, goes to Maiden Erlegh Chiltern Edge School.

Both boys have made friends at their schools and enjoy the way English schools are run.

Mrs Prokopenko said: “There’s less homework here and there are fun things like going to the swimming pool or going to the forest.

“In Ukraine we have too much homework and difficult subjects all the time.

“They also get a choice of what to eat in the cafeteria but in Ukrainian schools you don’t get a choice — you must eat what you get.”

Dmytro has chosen his GCSE subjects for year 10, which he will start in September. He will take computing, design technology, geography and history.

Alona now wants to come and join her family in Sonning Common and Mr Harper has said she would be welcome.

She currently does online classes at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, studying IT programming.

She won an award before starting university for being one of the 100 most intelligent students in Kyiv and was awarded a grant by the Ukrainian government.

She earned first place in Ukrainian language and second place in the maths category.

Mrs Prokopenko wants to stay in Sonning Common after the war ends as members of her family who are still there are struggling.

She said: “Firstly, you can’t find jobs now. Prices have gotten so bad, petrol is hard to find and salary is low — it’s very difficult.”

She said England was also the best place for her children because of the high level of education and the level of English they will achieve.

Mr Harper, who has lived in Sonning Common for 30 years, said that having the family at home with him was “going really well”.

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