‘We are refugees now, even our cat’: a Kherson mother’s UK diary

I’m just an ordinary mother. My children went to school and enjoyed after-school clubs. Last February, I was preparing to shoot a short film about Kherson’s streets. A rehearsal was scheduled – but it never took place.

That was the day they bombed airports simultaneously across the country. Public transport stopped running from our city. The frontline ran straight to our city and a week later we found ourselves under occupation. One morning changed our lives, and that of every Ukrainian family, for ever.

We are refugees now, even our cat, Venera. When we arrived in Britain, we never expected such kind support. When people find out we are from Ukraine, they often say: “I’m sorry,” or “Ukraine will win.” Some of them tell how they felt when Russia first invaded and how they bought humanitarian aid, such as food and diapers.

I have found a safe space in London, at a project for women and refugees. There we reveal our experience, do drama exercises and put on shows. For me it’s a kind of healing and I am happy to be a part of that community.

My children have had to abruptly switch to learning in a foreign language. For the first six months at school, my daughter did not understand anything at all. Struck by the difference in the curriculum, the gap only increased.

She was happy if she could guess what subject she was being taught. Perhaps next year she will understand the explanations in the classroom, but for now the teachers are preparing separate assignments with a translation in Ukrainian. And the school arranged special Tefl lessons for children from Ukraine.

We live with a great host. He even prepared a separate corner for Venera in the laundry room. My daughter sometimes calls the cat a traitor when it purrs while squinting on our host’s lap. Homes for Ukraine is a wonderful project that helped us find shelter on a beautiful, hospitable island.

My parents had their 45th wedding anniversary in February. I congratulated them on Telegram. “Oh, I forgot that we have an anniversary,” my mother replied. “We try to leave the house as little as possible.” I would be happier if they left Kherson, but they don’t listen.

“This is our home and we choose to live here,” they say, as if the war has not changed their way of life. When Kherson was occupied, I often lost contact with them and I worried a lot. After liberation, there is still no stable internet, but it is possible to exchange daily text messages or even calls when the connection allows.

Sometimes I hear bangs during the call. Kherson remains the most shelled region of Ukraine, after the settlements closest to the frontlines around the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

My children want to help rebuild Ukraine, but first they need a good education. London is an excellent place, so I am grateful for this opportunity. I know I will rush to Ukraine when the war ends, but I don’t know if it will be safe for my children straight away. Many areas are still mined in the Kherson region and other newly liberated territories.

Ukrainians are strong. We will cope with tragedy, with depression and with restoration after victory. We will win. There is no other option.

We all are looking forward to walking our native streets and seeing relatives and friends. But I can’t plan anything for now; I can only dream.