Market Drayton woman who left USSR as a child prepares to welcome Ukrainian refugees

A Ukrainian woman who lives in Shropshire is preparing to welcome a grandmother, mother and daughter from the war-torn city of Kharkiv into her home.

Iana Jacobson, 59, and her granddaughter Kitty Edmonds
Iana Jacobson, 59, and her granddaughter Kitty Edmonds

Iana Jacobson, from Market Drayton, is being joined later this week by the family, who have been travelling across Europe through Poland after Vladimir Putin's Russian invasion.

She has been frantically tidying up and buying beds and various bits and bobs to prepare for her guests' arrival, and is looking forward to showing them the Shropshire sights and helping them learn English.

"They left Ukraine a little while back," said Iana. "They were in Poland and living in different houses. They have been moving every couple of days while they wait for a visa to the UK.

"I haven't spoken to them a lot, a little bit on Whatsapp. They message me in Russian, which I can read, but I reply in English and they translate it. I don't have the Cyrillic alphabet on my phone and I'm not very good at writing in Russian.

"I want to help teach them English while they are here. I got a load of Ladybird books, really simple and easy. That's how I learned English."

The family will be joining Iana and her 10-year-old granddaughter Kitty, who has Angelman Syndrome.

"I had to get one room completely emptied," added Iana. "Although it's just me and my granddaughter here, it's not just our stuff - there's my daughter's as well.

"I've had my lovely neighbours helping me. I've been buying beds and putting them together.

"I'm still not completely ready. I need to make sure they've got space in the fridge and there will be food they like. I don't want them to feel like guests, I want them to feel like it's home and they can go around and do what they want to do.

"I know what it's like when you move to another country and don't know anyone and don't know the language. People are smiling at you and you don't know why.

"Going back to my Soviet upbringing, what was celebrated was industry. I aspired to be a factory worker when I grew up. That's how it was. So I'm looking forward to taking them to Ironbridge to show them the birthplace of the industrial revolution. I don't know whether they'll be as excited as me!"

Iana has been in touch with local companies to ask about work for the mother, but needs to speak more when they arrive. "I know the mother wants to work. I've asked at Palethorpes and a couple of other places. I don't know what she does though so we'll have to see.

"I don't know whether they will want to stay here or go back to Ukraine. I just want them to feel as though they are safe and cared for here.

Iana was born in Lviv, before moving to Israel in the late 1960s as a child and then England in the 1970s. She first moved to Sussex, and has been in Shropshire since 2015 to be closer to her daughter. She shared memories of growing up in the "oppressive" Soviet regime.

"My parents applied for a visa to leave the Soviet Union 12 years before I was born, and I was six when we got the visa to go to Israel. So that shows you just how long it took. We left with lots of Russian Jews.

"There was no conflict but there were things I remember. You didn't talk about being Jewish or not liking being in the Soviet Union. If I came home from kindergarten and said Lenin was the coolest guy in the world, my mum would never say 'actually he's not so great', because if I went back the next day and repeated it, my mum could have lost her job.

"That's the sort of thing that would happen. It was an oppressive state. Everyone learned to keep their mouth shut otherwise there would be consequences.

"Now people are beginning to understand a lot more. People are seeing normal families running away and escaping from their homes. A quiet life, being happy and tending to the garden is not a guarantee."

It is hoped the Ukrainian family will be welcomed at a party to celebrate the Queen's Platinum Jubilee in the coming weeks.

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