Ukrainian refugee flees to Midlothian after escaping Russian forces while 35 weeks pregnant

A Ukrainian refugee who has sought refuge in Midlothian has opened up on her harrowing journey at 35 weeks pregnant to escape the Russian occupation.

Hanna Ukolova, 23, is pleading with the people of Edinburgh and the Lothians to sponsor her little brother Illia Ukolova, 17, so that he can finally meet his nephew and escape the horrors of war in their home country.

Hanna gave birth to her son David Sohlaiev, two, after arriving in Scotland, but her journey to Midlothian was marred with difficulties and hardship.

READ MORE: Police investigate after East Lothian home targeted with four off-road bikes stolen

READ MORE: Meet the Edinburgh Taylor Swift superfans queuing in the rain for merchandise

The crossfit trainer explained how her home town of Berdyansk, in the Zaporozhye region, near Mariupol, was occupied by Russian forces in March 2022.

She was forced to leave her family in Ukraine to try to find safety for her unborn child and described scenes where Russian soldiers would patrol the streets with weapons while vital medicines became scarce.

Sign up for Edinburgh Live newsletters for more headlines straight to your inbox

“I was already pregnant when the war started, we were all in panic and really didn’t know what would happen next,” Hanna said. “Chaos began in our city, people bought huge food carts in stores, it was scary to look at it, because we didn’t understand what was about to happen.

“Local activists organised groups that monitored the border in the city, as the police stopped working. On March 27, 2022, Russian soldiers began to enter our city in tanks and combat vehicles, and videos were distributed online of them inspecting every street of our city with weapons in their arms.

“It was very scary when they drove up to our house and looked into the windows. Gradually, food and medicine were running out in our city.

“We stood in huge queues for the bread that was baked in a small local factory. After they had already captured all the important sites of the city, they completely disconnected our communication and began broadcasting propaganda from vehicles.

“We often turned off the lights and we had absolutely no gas all the time, we were very cold, and cooked food on the fire on the street and heated the water there. Sometimes I went out to work part-time as an administrator in a sports club, which was constantly locked and only regular customers could come there.

“We helped people from Mariupol who came in broken cars, I took them from the school where they stayed overnight to take a shower in our sports club. We were very worried about the problem with medicines, very high prices for items and of course most of the doctors left.

“Four months later, we decided to leave, but I couldn’t pick up my brother because I was already in time to give birth, and he didn’t have a document to travel abroad and he was a minor. It was a very hard road, as we travelled through Russia by bus for three days.

“I was taken away for filtering on the Russian border and interrogated. Since I was more than 35 weeks pregnant, I was not allowed on the plane and had to travel by train.

“But now I’m safe here, and my brother is still not, I’m very sick at this thought.”

Hanna cannot reveal her exact location in Midlothian for personal reasons but she says that she is desperate to be reunited with her younger brother who she was unable to rescue due to a lack of paperwork.

But now that he is over the age of 16, she hopes she will be able to get him to Scotland so that he can meet his nephew for the first time.

Illia too has faced an arduous journey and is now staying in Ukraine after escaping occupied territory.

Join Edinburgh Live's Whatsapp Community here and get the latest news sent straight to your messages.

“My brother decided to leave the occupied territory by himself, and for me that took great heroism,” she continued. “He now lives in Ukraine with close friends of our family.

“I want to make sure he is safe and living with me. Of course, I really want my son to finally meet his uncle, since we haven’t seen our relatives for almost two years and it is so painful knowing they have waited this long to meet him.”