Ukrainian family of 10 move into house in Cambridgeshire donated by local businessman

23 March 2022, 16:11

By Emma Soteriou

A four-generation family of 10, which fled Kharkiv's war zone, has moved into a Cambridgeshire home, donated for their use by a local businessman.

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The group, ranging from the ages of 10 to 90, came to the UK under the Ukraine Family Scheme, having been helped by their relative Roman Starkov, who is a British citizen.

They moved into one of 52-year-old Mick Swinhoe's houses - next to his own in Caldecote near Cambridge - which he bought just before the war broke out, with hopes of using it as a "project house".

However, Mr Swinhoe soon changed his mind when he connected with a Ukrainian family, saying he wanted the house to be used for "something more useful until I do something else with it".

"It's a better use for it really," he said.

"I can do what I want to do later when things get better."

He added that his two daughters - aged 11 and 15 - were "really delighted" that there were three children among the Ukrainian family of 10, who they could help integrate into school.

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Having helped his family with the process, Mr Starkov, 38, also of Cambridge, explained what it involved for the refugees.

"You have to fill out arcane forms, and for such a big group there's a lot of repetition, but once that was sorted we went to a visa application centre, they processed us very quickly, that was in Albania," he said.

His 90-year-old grandmother, Ludmila Starkova, did not have a valid international passport and wanted to stay in Ukraine.

"On every border that was a challenge," he said.

"Fortunately every single border they figured something out and allowed her to pass."

Eight of the family members took a flight from Albania to London Luton Airport, with Mr Starkov's sister Valeriia Starkova, 37, and father Mykola Starkov, 59, travelling by car and ferry - so they could bring more of their belongings and their two dogs - before arriving four days later.

Mr Starkov said he had "mixed emotions" now his family have safely fled Ukraine.

"Yes they are safe, that's amazing," he said.

"They've still lost everything. There's still hope that maybe they can go back and maybe what they left behind will still be there. Maybe not.

"And there's a lot of uncertainty about their future here. Will they fit in, will they find a place, will they feel comfortable? I don't know."

Ms Starkova said that when the war broke out in Kharkiv "it was 5am, we packed a few suitcases and I went to my mum's home and we stayed there for five days as it was so scary to go outside".

"We were in the basement. We couldn't go outside. We stayed five days in the basement without going anywhere.

"Then we decided that we had to leave as we couldn't sleep, it was so scary. We just put our bags in the cars and went.

"We were so afraid someone would shoot our car or something like that. Recently friends of my friends were shot like that.

"It was so scary but we managed to go through the borders and when we passed several cities we felt relieved as we couldn't hear those bombs and those scary noises.

"The first night we slept it was so quiet."

The 20-day journey to the UK left her "exhausted" she went on to say, adding that it was "such a relief" to arrive at the house Mr Swinhoe let them stay in.

"I can feel maybe I have a home again because I feel that I lost everything that I had," she said.

"My kids (Alikhan, 10, and Kamila, 11) lost everything.

"I did so much, my family, for us to live there, to earn money, nice place to live, work for kids. We lost in one day everything.

"I had a really nice job that I love, nail technician, but I really love my job. I feel that I need to start again from zero."

Asked about those who are helping the family, she said: "I feel that they're saving our lives, otherwise I don't know where we would stay because it's quite expensive, and OK, we could for couple of weeks, but we need to live every day and we need to find a job first.

"I'm so grateful for everyone who supports us and can give us some place to live. I really appreciate it."

The family were reunited at the home in Cambridgeshire on Tuesday, after they separated to travel from Albania to the UK.