‘Being here has helped us to realise how kind people are’ – Ukranian refugees on life in Portsmouth

Judy and Andrew Walker with Olha Mazer and her daughter Dasha MakovetskaJudy and Andrew Walker with Olha Mazer and her daughter Dasha Makovetska
Judy and Andrew Walker with Olha Mazer and her daughter Dasha Makovetska
Two Ukrainian refugees living in Portsmouth are already planning to welcome their hosts Judy and Andrew Walker to their home country when the war is over.

Olha Mazer and her daughter Dasha Makovetska have got on so well with their host family that they describe it as a lifelong friendship.

The pair fled from Lviv in Ukraine to Poland soon after the conflict began in February last year. Dasha returned to her home city for a couple of months, but when they were matched with Andrew and Judy, she joined her mother and they travelled to Portsmouth together.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

They’ve now been living with the Walkers for the past six months, and can stay as long as they like. And they have nothing but praise for the welcome they’ve received from everyone they’ve met in the area.

Judy Walker with Olha Mazer and her daughter Dasha MakovetskaJudy Walker with Olha Mazer and her daughter Dasha Makovetska
Judy Walker with Olha Mazer and her daughter Dasha Makovetska

‘It has been life-changing and a privilege to meet these two women, and we’re creating relationships that will last for the rest of our lives,’ said Judy. ‘They have invited us to visit them in Ukraine and we can’t wait for that to happen.’

The couple were matched with Olha and Dasha via the Diocese of Portsmouth’s project to find hosts for refugees fleeing Ukraine. Kind families across the diocese have opened their homes to 51 Ukrainian refugees so far, and the diocese is aiming to recruit another 50 hosts soon.

Olha said: ‘When the war started, the politicians were saying it would be over in a couple of weeks. But after a few days, Dasha and I felt we had to travel to Poland to feel safe. I stayed there for five months, and found a house and a job there.’

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dasha, who is now 17, returned to live with her sister in Lviv for two months. She found it difficult to study at school in Poland because her grasp of the language wasn’t good enough, so went back to Ukraine until she and her mum were matched with Judy and Andrew.

‘Those two months were difficult,’ she recalled. ‘There were a lot of alerts at night, which was awful, as it made it difficult to sleep. Once we had met Judy online, I bought a ticket and joined my mother in Poland and then we travelled from there. My English is better than my Polish, so I thought it would be better to be at school in England.

‘It was quite frightening to travel by myself back to Ukraine and then by myself to Poland again. I’d never actually left the country before the war, but I was determined.’

Andrew and Judy met them at Luton airport and drove them back to their Southsea home. They offered them two rooms on the top floor of their house, and allowed them as much independence as they needed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

They also helped them to access work, school, GP, bank and other services.

Dasha was offered a free place at Portsmouth Grammar School, where she is now taking A-levels. Olha was also given a place learning English at Language Specialists International (LSI) in Portsmouth.

She worked as an accountant and store manager in Lviv, and has found a job as a carer here.

Andrew said: ‘I remember meeting these two people at Luton who we’d never met before, with their whole lives in one-and-a-half suitcases, and driving them back here late at night. It was truly humbling, and the way that they’ve embraced everything has been phenomenal. For instance, Dasha has got one of only 30 places in the UK for a psychology course in Leeds.’

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Andrew and Judy have taken the pair to see tourist attractions and a West End show in London, and introduced them to groups of Ukrainian refugees meeting locally.

‘We have an amazing host family and they have helped us with everything,’ said Olha. ‘We want to say thank you to them for making things much easier for us. Judy helped me to find a place at LSI, which has helped, as I didn’t speak English very well.

‘We eat with Judy and Andrew every day, and they ask us about our days, which helps my English. Sometimes we cook, sometimes they cook – we’ve been enjoying learning about each other’s food.’

Dasha added: ‘Being here has helped us to realise how kind people are. I can’t even put into words what that has meant. When I see people flying the Ukrainian flag to support us, that can make me cry. And our host family has really become like our actual family.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

‘The man at the job centre was so kind that we took chocolate biscuits to give to him. Someone gave us a bike and then the man at the bike shop fixed it for free. My teachers and classmates have been asking me how I am each time I see them, which is important. It helps me as a teenager to know there are kind people in the world.

‘When you realise that it has been a year since the war started, that does feel awful. You can’t imagine your country being at war for a year. But when the war is over, we will definitely invite Judy and Andrew to come to our home in Ukraine.’

Dasha’s sister remains in Ukraine, and communication with her isn’t always easy. Olha also has a brother in the army, and his location isn’t always clear. So Olha and Dasha are determined to return home when they can.

For more information about the Diocese of Portsmouth’s project to host Ukrainian refugees, or to apply to be a host, see: www.portsmouth.anglican.org/ukraine.

Related topics: