Ukrainian family in Shropshire share heartbreak of leaving great-grandmother behind
A Ukrainian family has detailed the horror of waking up to bombs exploding and having to flee across Europe, leaving their elderly great-grandmother behind.
Elena Mazytova, her daughter Anastasiya Hasukha and granddaughter Veronika, aged eight, are now living in Tern Hill, near Market Drayton, after fleeing the war-torn city of Kharkiv.
Shropshire may be a far cry from some of the horror witnessed in Ukraine in recent months, But for the family, it had been similarly peaceful and quiet in Kharkiv. That was until 4.30am on February 24.
Using the help of host Iana Jacobson as translator, Elena said: "We woke up to bombing. Kharkiv is very close to the border. Once the bombing started, it didn't stop."
All three of them lived in the same apartment block, as well as Elena's elderly mother. Elena was on the ground floor, and Anastasiya and Veronika on the first floor. "We were told it would be safer for them to be on the ground floor with me," said Elena, "so from the first week they moved down. We put beds in the hallway instead of the bedrooms because it was safer if the building was hit."
Many elderly and vulnerable people lived close by and, for the first few weeks, Anastasiya took the lead in sourcing food parcels and essentials for them from the local council and humanitarian charities. "She's a businesswoman, and knows how to get stuff done," said Iana.
Because of Covid, measures were already in place with Veronika's school for lessons to be carried out remotely - but Anastasiya said that sometimes pupils couldn't hear the teacher because laptop microphones would pick up the noise from bomb blasts in the background.
As the war intensified, Elena, Anastasiya and Veronika were forced into the heartbreaking decision to leave their home, and Veronika's great-grandmother, who is too old to travel.
"I cry every single day," said Elena. "I can't even talk about it because it makes me cry. I talk to her every day."
She added: "If I was a man, I would start fighting. I find this very difficult to talk about."
After leaving Ukraine, the family spent several weeks "sofa surfing" through Poland, moving on every few days, before eventually getting their visas approved to come to the UK.
They are now living with Iana - a Ukrainian who has lived in Shropshire since 2015 - and her granddaughter Kitty.
"They said they are very relieved that they were placed with me because I speak Russian so it's a bit easier for them," said Iana. "They feel welcome and at home.
"They haven't been able to get out much yet, it's been two weeks of filling in forms. There are so many to do.
"Anastasiya wants to work so I'm hoping she can find a job. We've had people trying to help her already, which is lovely. She was a businesswoman in Ukraine. She had a car parts business. It's difficult for Ukrainian people who have had an important job at home, but they don't speak English. We'll probably look for factory work at first, but I want to help teach them English."
For now, they are looking forward to a safer, more peaceful life in Shropshire. They were recently welcomed to their community at a street party for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee.
Iana said: "This is a really nice way for them to meet their neighbours. Anastasiya was helping with getting everything ready.
"They are settling in really well. They're really enjoying it here. The neighbours have welcomed them and really helped because we've been having such a laugh.
"They know everyone now within our neighbourhood. Veronika has just started school at Buntingsdale Primary School. She said all the children are her friends and she has been trying to teach them Ukrainian.
"They teach children a lot about the Queen in Ukraine so they know all about why we are celebrating."
Elena told how Veronika has wanted to meet the Queen since she was four years old.
Iana added: "Her mum and her granny used to say to her 'oh my god, your manners are terrible. If you had dinner with the Queen, she would be appalled!' Ever since then, Veronika has said 'I want to meet the Queen!'
"So I said to her 'come on Veronika, you're going to have to write her a letter'. She would love to meet her."