A Story from Ukraine

June 18, 2023

We all know about Harrogate District of Sanctuary. They’re the group to which we donated the money we raised at last year’s charity dinner. At the beginning of June John Hart from HDS came to speak to us and he brought with him two special guests. Vova Matsarski and his son Stasha joined us. Vova with his wife and four children was able to flee Ukraine over a year ago and told us his story.

John gave us some context. Ukraine is much bigger than I for one had imagined. It comprises 233,000 sq miles; the UK by contrast has 93,000 but its population is only two-thirds of the UK’s. 9.9m people have been displaced since the Russian invasion in February 2022.

Vova’s family lived just outside Kyiv. He woke up on the night of 22nd February 2022 to the sound of gunfire. He imagined he was dreaming. It was only when it continued and was augmented with flares and flashes that he realised it was for real. He started making Molotov cocktails and was joined by Stasha. The Russians were stopped only 22km from their house. Over two days Vova helped to construct a checkpoint.

The Matsarskis were fortunate that a family friend was able to accommodate them in Harrogate, though the form-filling was tortuous. They finally landed at Leeds-Bradford airport and Vova’s first impression was of the size of the trees. He had somehow imagined England as a country of sparse vegetation and still marvels at the height of the trees around Harrogate. Stasha is now settled at Harrogate Grammar School where his English is rapidly improving.

One of Vova’s regrets is that he has lost his Russian friends. He told us that all Ukrainians speak Russian and that he had a lot of friends in Russia. Now, when he contacts them they simply parrot the government line about rooting out fascists. He isn’t sure whether they believe it or are too scared to say otherwise.

As for the future he hopes to continue to live in the UK, but has not given up on the possibility of returning to Ukraine one day. We were grateful to Vova and Stasha for sharing their experiences with us and to John for bringing them along. It certainly brought the reality of the conflict home to us.

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