Ukrainian families who have been housed in the UK under refugee schemes have said they ‘felt safe here’ after meeting Boris Johnson in Downing Street.
The Prime Minister welcomed a group of around 10 refugees to the official residence in central London.
Some members of the group had been housed through the Homes for Ukraine scheme and others had arrived through the Ukraine Family Scheme, both set up by the British government following the Russian invasion.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Natalia Kogut, 40, said her family felt “safe” and were “grateful” to Mr Johnson for the support Ukraine had received.
Ms Kogut said she fled Kyiv with her mother Malyna, 64, daughter Melisa, 11, and son Akim, 18, and arrived in the UK on March 5.
The family have since been taken in by an elderly woman who lives in a “big house” in Birmingham, she said.
The 41-year-old said “we feel safe here” but added that they are worried about her husband, who is still in Ukraine delivering supplies and food.
Asked about her meeting with Mr Johnson, she said: ‘It was amazing – even British nationals can’t always say they met the Prime Minister and went to the residence and for us it was ‘It’s incredible.”
“The children are so happy,” she said, adding that her daughter Melisa sang the Ukrainian national anthem to the prime minister.
“I was so proud – people were crying hearing it,” Ms Kogut said.
“We are very grateful to the Prime Minister because he is the number one who is helping Ukraine now and not just Ukrainian refugees here, but Ukraine with weapons and I don’t know if Ukraine wouldn’t exist. -be more, so we are very grateful. .”
Of her family finding a sponsor, she said, “We are very happy and I don’t know what to say and we are very grateful and the people are really, really nice.
“We can just think about the difficulty of crossing the border with this road and this bombing and what we remember, and here we are happy but there are people who do not have this possibility, and some people who we knew – they perished in Bucha.
“So it’s mixed feelings because sometimes I even feel a kind of guilt because I’m safe here.”
Nina Herasymenko, 41, and her son Bohdon, 16, arrived in the UK on April 10 after fleeing the Russian-occupied region of Kherson near Crimea three days earlier.
The couple arrived through the Ukrainian family program and are staying with Ms Herasymenko’s sister, Tatiana Krupenko, 35, who lives in Birmingham.
Ms Krupenko said: ‘It was a bit difficult to know if they would make it.
She translated for her sister, who said they had to get into the car with nothing or clothes on and drive through a minefield to escape the area.
Ms Krupenko said: “They went hoping they would get somewhere because they were out of food, there was nothing in the supermarket at the time, no supplies, nothing.”
She said her sister described what it was like to live in Kherson, saying: “You don’t know who’s going to be next, you can’t sleep because constant missiles, constant gunfire, you don’t know not if it will hit you or anyone else, the places you loved are gone, the hopes and dreams of 16 year olds are gone.
Ms Herasymenko then explained how they were forced to cross a minefield and a railway bridge as the Russians shelled the roads.
“She said, ‘I really didn’t believe we were going to make it,'” Ms Krupenko translated.
Asked how she felt her sister and nephew were in the UK, the 35-year-old replied: “Amazing, so grateful they are safe.”
When meeting Mr Johnson, Ms Krupenko said he was: ‘Very, very welcoming’.
She added that her family were ‘very grateful for this opportunity but also for all the help from Boris’.
“He was really down to earth, chatting with everyone, cracking jokes, we taught him some Ukrainian words,” Ms Krupenko said.
“It’s been really sweet and an amazing experience, he’s like a normal human being.”
Alicja Kaczmarek, who works for the Polish Association of Expats, which supports Central and Eastern European migrants and helped organize the meeting, said the Ukrainians had had “mixed experiences” traveling to the UK .
She said: “We have a long list of families waiting to come to homes from Ukraine, but the process is very slow.
“People we have supported have had mixed experiences,” Ms Kaczmarek added.
“But to be honest, things are changing every week and it’s really accelerating now.”
On the future of the programs, she said, “We don’t know what will happen after the six months.
“We fear there won’t be a sequel – there’s no assurance at the moment, so it’s all very short term.
“But it’s working, more and more people are coming.”