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Olivia Colman ‘humbled’ to speak to Ukrainian teenager after two years of war

Actress Olivia Colman has said it was a “privilege” to meet with a Ukrainian teenager who recalled waking to the sounds of explosions on the first day of Russia’s full-scale invasion nearly two years ago.

The Oscar-winning actress and Unicef UK president said it was a “humbling experience to talk to someone so extraordinary” as she met with 15-year-old Solomiya from Kharkiv, who expressed that her “biggest hope is for the war to be ended, fully”.

Solomiya told Colman how they “woke up and packed in about 20 minutes” on the first day of Russia’s invasion, prioritising her English books so she could continue her language studies, which she said was “so important to me”, before fleeing to another city.

Their meeting, which was held over an online video call, also served to raise awareness of the impact the ongoing conflict has on children living in the warzone.

Latest data released by Unicef on Friday estimates that over the past two years, children in Ukraine’s frontline regions have spent between 3,000 and 5,000 hours sheltering in basements as air raid sirens sound overhead – the equivalent of spending four to seven months underground.

A photo of Solomiya standing on a balcony against a backdrop of a wooded area
15-year-old Solomiya told actress Olivia Colman how she awoke to the sound of explosions on the first day of the war (Solomiya/PA)

Talking to Colman about the first day of war on February 24, 2022, Solomiya said: “We woke up and we packed in about 20 minutes, and we just go to another city.

“I was actually scared, everyone was scared. I think that (the war) would last for two weeks or months, but not even two years.

“I took all my books, this was so important to me. I do not go to school now, I have online learning because it’s much safer.

“We have underground schools for younger (ones) and they make lots of events there for older ones and I went there for speaking club.”

A photo of Olivia Colman at UNICEF's Global Humanitarian Supply Hub in Denmark
Olivia Colman, Unicef UK president, said it was ‘a very humbling experience to talk to someone so extraordinary’ (Unicef/Asamoah/PA)

Solomiya also spoke of volunteering on a Unicef project to help other teenagers facing mental health challenges and eating disorders because of the war, with The Crown actress saying she was left “humbled by her positivity”.

“Meeting Solomiya was a privilege,” Colman said.

“She’s 15 and she’s already gone through more than most adults go through in a lifetime, and she’s come out of it so incredibly strong, incredibly positive, and she still has hopes and dreams for the future and for a positive outcome for Ukraine.

“It was a very humbling experience to talk to someone so extraordinary.”

Following their conversation, Colman said “it’s clear” the situation for children in Ukraine “continues to be one of fear and loss”.

“Their schools are still under attack, meaning huge disruption to their education and their mental wellbeing,” she said.

A photo of Solomiya standing on top of a rock in a forest
Solomiya told Olivia Colman that her ‘biggest hope is for the war to be ended, fully’ (Solomiya/PA)

“But Unicef is there and has been from day one providing life-saving support, working hard to give children their education back and providing safe spaces to learn, grow and dream – just like amazing Solomiya.

“The children in Ukraine need peace, now.”

Determined to provide hope for the future generation and to rebuild her country, Solomiya told Colman how she would like to become an architect.

“My biggest hope is for the war to be ended, fully,” she said.

“No one deserves to suffer from that, especially children.

“I saw all the buildings that were destroyed, but I would like to be an architect in the future. I love drawing.”

Olivia Colman standing next to a box full of supplies
Olivia Colman on a visit to Unicef’s Global Humanitarian Supply Hub in Denmark in 2022, where she helped pack emergency supplies for families in need (Unicef/Asamoah/PA)

The special meeting followed Colman’s previous support for Unicef, when she travelled to its Global Humanitarian Supply Hub in Denmark in 2022 – the first year of the war.

There, she helped package emergency supplies and school-in-a-box essentials which were sent to Ukrainian children and families in need.

Unicef UK chief executive, Jon Sparkes, said: “We’re so grateful to Olivia for meeting Solomiya and helping Unicef raise awareness of the conflict that continues to turn children’s lives upside down, and to Solomiya for sharing her inspiring story.

“This war has been devastating for Ukraine’s children. Despite their resilience, for many children inside and outside of Ukraine, the war has wiped two years of schooling and time spent with friends and loved ones, robbing them of their chance to learn and develop, as well as to play and to feel happy.

“Ukraine’s future generation faces a mental health crisis and support is needed now more than ever.”

To find out more, visit: unicef.org.uk/donate/donate-now-to-protect-children-in-ukraine/