Meet the Ukrainian refugee longs to make 'beautiful' Surbiton her home

By Nub News Reporter

14th Jan 2024 | Local Features

Christina. (Photo: Supplied)
Christina. (Photo: Supplied)

Just before 5am on 24 February, President Vladimir Putin announced the beginning of what he termed a "special military operation" to "demilitarise and de-Nazify" Ukraine.  

Minutes later, the largest attack on a European country since the Second World War began. As Russian bombs started to fall, millions of men, women and children began to flee the country. Whilst many chose to stay in Europe, some 210,000 Ukrainian refugees ended up here, in the UK.  

Christina is one of them.  

Hailing from Uzhhorod, a city in the far west of Ukraine, a stone's throw from the Slovakian border, Christina had nothing but her life ahead of her.  

The daughter of a cellist and a theatre director, music seemed to come naturally to Christina. A violinist from a young age, she was on tour in the UK with the Odessa National orchestra as war broke out. Whilst news of the invasion didn't come as a complete surprise, it was still a shock.  

"There were some rumours…I had seen satellite photos of tanks and cars and everything near the border [with Russia], but we thought it would be completely insane to have a war in the 21st century," Christina explains. 

With most of her family relatively safe, tucked away far from the frontline, her thoughts quickly turned to her 75-year-old grandmother who was living in the small village of Boyaro-Lezhachi, 800 metres from the Russian border.  

"The Russians were bombing everything [there], the school, the cultural club…now there is nothing left, most of the houses have been destroyed. But my grandmother didn't want to leave. She said she'd rather die," Christina laments.  

Luckily, her grandmother, penned in by sheer destruction, was soon persuaded to evacuate. But countless others haven't been so fortunate. According to the UN at least 10,000 civilians, including over 560 children have been killed since the war began. Whilst as many as five million people have been displaced inside the country, over 6 million have left altogether.  

In response, the UK government initiated Homes for Ukraine, in a bid to house the ever-increasing number of Ukrainian refugees with British homeowners.  

As one of the few people in her Orchestra able to speak English, Christina soon found herself helping her colleagues find a place to stay. After finding her own host and living with them for nearly two years, Christina now needs to find somewhere else.  

"I have a beautiful relationship with my hosts, but they have relatives who are coming to stay, so I need to move out." 

Unable to afford skyrocketing London rent prices, Christina hopes to find another host in "beautiful" Surbiton, where most of her colleagues and friends live. 

"I went to Surbiton to visit my friends and colleagues in my Orchestra, it's so beautiful," she says. "At the moment I live in Lewisham, which is far away and can be isolating at times." 

But above all, Christina still longs for her homeland.  

"I really miss Ukraine every day. Every day. Because all of my friends," Christina says. "I had everything, I had a lot of work as a freelance musician and then everything changed." 

She has gone back to Ukraine a handful of times since the beginning of the war, including Lviv where amongst almost daily bombardments, she was required to complete her university exams.  

"Twice I went down to the [air-raid] shelter in my student accommodation," she says. "It was really disturbing having to go somewhere in the middle of the night with just your blanket…my thoughts were racing." 

Whilst Christina is "extremely grateful" for the government's support, navigating the UK visa system is a process she finds "quite difficult".  Under her current visa she is entitled to live and work in the UK for three years and two years into her stay, she is worried about what to do next.  

As a musician, Christina can apply for a Creative Worker Visa, but as she notes, it comes with certain caveats. For example, you cannot work a second job in the same sector and the same level as your main job for more than 20 hours a week. 

 On top of this, Christina would need to pay an application fee of £298 and pay a healthcare surcharge of as much as £624 a year. Christina is already working several jobs, so she is unsure how she will manage to support herself going into the future.  

Despite these difficulties, Christina is keen to emphasise she, and countless other refugees, want to work and not just rely on government handouts. 

"We are really grateful for the people who live here, my environment, my friends…we're all really keen to work, we're not willing to just use the government's money and taxes," she says. 

However, as the war in Ukraine faces a growing lack of support in the West, Christina says it's far from over. 

"The war is still going on every day and it's really hard. So I would like people not to forget about that, just for information, not for any extra support, just for people to know that it's still happening." 

In the meantime, Christina's search continues for someone willing to host her close to her friends and colleagues in Surbiton.  


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