War in Ukraine: Ukrainian mum drives for three days from Hungary to settle in Peterborough with three children

More than 100 Ukrainian people in Peterborough have been taken in by sponsors since the war broke out.
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With the war in Ukraine now passing the 200 day mark, the conflict continues to have a devastating effect, both emotionally and economically, on people far and wide. Needless to say, it is the Ukrainian people themselves who have suffered most.

Olha Shunko, a 40-year-old mother from Kyiv, is one such person.

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She, and her three children, fled their homeland shortly after Russia launched its ‘Special Operation’ in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian family, Olga Shunko, with her three sons Mykyda Malyk (16), Kyzyl Malyk (11) and Ivan Shunko (6) are now living in Longthorpe (image: David Lowndes).Ukrainian family, Olga Shunko, with her three sons Mykyda Malyk (16), Kyzyl Malyk (11) and Ivan Shunko (6) are now living in Longthorpe (image: David Lowndes).
Ukrainian family, Olga Shunko, with her three sons Mykyda Malyk (16), Kyzyl Malyk (11) and Ivan Shunko (6) are now living in Longthorpe (image: David Lowndes).

She has now been in the UK for five months, arriving in Peterborough in May.

Ms Shunko recounted her experiences of travelling to England and settling in Peterborough to this newspaper.

“My husband is a military soldier so he cannot leave Ukraine”, said Olha.

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“I went to Hungary and a nice person helped me. They told me I can apply for a visa to the UK.

Olga Shunko's husband, Sviatoslav Shunko.Olga Shunko's husband, Sviatoslav Shunko.
Olga Shunko's husband, Sviatoslav Shunko.

“I decided it was better if I came by car. It took three days. It was difficult to drive for such a long time.”

According to Peterborough City Council, 163 people have arrived in the city from Ukraine, as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme so far.

Launched in March, and known officially as the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, this initiative allows people living within the UK to sponsor a named Ukrainian national or family to live with them, providing they have suitable accommodation to offer.

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Olha, who has settled in Longthorpe, spoke warmly about her new home.

She added: “I live alone with my three children, without my sponsor. I have a small house and a beautiful, small garden and my sponsor lives near me.

“My sponsor is a very good friend who often helps me.

“I have met many nice people who have helped me. Peterborough is a quiet city and my children are studying in school here. For me it’s a positive experience.”

‘We are very happy’

Speaking in good English, Olha explained how her three boys have adapted to their new life in Peterborough.

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“My younger son, he is six-years-old, he is very small, so he doesn’t understand everything that's happened. He has adapted quickly”, she added.

“The first day my middle son, 11, started primary school he made a friend, a boy from Latvia, I think, who could speak a little Russian. He also made friends with an English boy.

“When he started secondary school last week at Jack Hunt, he was happy because he saw his old friends from primary school.

There have however been a few minor challenges.

“My eldest son is studying in sixth form at Arthur Mellows Village College.

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"It is far away so I decided to buy him a bus pass so he can get to sixth form by himself. I had to pay because he is 16 and not eligible for free school transport.”

The Shunko children have also made efforts to integrate with their local community outside of school.

“My middle son attended a boxing club in Kyiv so when we arrived [in Peterborough] I found a boxing club, which he now attends, three times a week.

"It’s an amazing boxing club with a good coach who is a police man. We are very happy that he is able to continue his training.”

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At present, the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme allows Ukrainian refugees to stay in the UK for up to three years.

Olha is cautiously optimistic about her family’s future:

“My husband and I decided I should stay in the UK, improve my English and find a good job.

“We would like to change our visa for a longer visa because we can stay now only for three years.

“If it’s possible, he can come to us later, when he can leave our country and maybe we’d like to stay here for a longer time."