Ukrainian mum and son settle into Norfolk MP's home
- Credit: Supplied by Duncan Baker
Just a few short weeks ago they were living normal lives in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
Then Russia's invasion of their country turned the lives of Anna Kolomiichuk, 34, and her six-year-old son Sviatik - along with millions of others - upside-down.
North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker became the first member of parliament to take in Ukrainian refugees when Anna and Sviatik moved into his Aylmerton home two weeks ago.
Mr Baker said the pair were settling in well and getting to know north Norfolk, where they had been given a warm welcome.
He said: "We were out in West Runton at the weekend and a lady came up to Anna and just hugged her.
"They rather enjoyed crabbing down there. They don't live near a beach in Kyiv, so we had to explain to Sviatik that you could not take the crab home and keep it as a pet."
Mr Baker added: "We've been bowled over by how generous people have been.
"There have been donations of clothes, toys and Easter eggs, and someone even bought Anna a six-month membership to The Reef [leisure centre]. Anna finds it quite emotional when we're driving along, seeing Ukrainian flags in people's gardens."
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Other outings have included a trip to a yard sale being held to help Ukrainians around Holt, and the final game of Sheringham Football Club's season, where Sviatik - a huge football fan - was given a scarf and got to have his photo taken with the team.
Mr Baker said Anna and Sviatik had fitted in well with his family, and his wife, Nina and their daughters Isabelle, 10, and Eleanor, six, had already become firm friends with the new arrivals.
He said: "It's nice seeing all three children sitting curled up on the sofa, it's like a little family all in one.
"Integrating them into the house has been very easy although there have been some practical challenges.
"The children might eat different foods or go to bed at different times."
Mr Baker said his family were enjoying sampling Ukrainian dishes such as Borscht - a beetroot-based soup - and in turn they had taken Anna and Sviatik out for fish and chips by the seaside, and they had also tried Yorkshire puddings.
Anna and Sviatik's journey to Britain was fraught with difficulty. With flights arranged from Krakow in Poland, they made their way to the border by bus, where they faced a long delay.
"There was such a long queue of traffic," Mr Baker said. "Each bus that crosses the border takes up to an hour to be checked and they were 10 back in the queue. [Anna] was desperately worried at one point."
They missed their original flight, but finally made it onto British soil after an arduous 48 hours travel. But even after they had arrived at his home, Mr Baker was not able to meet them face-to-face for several days, because he had tested positive for Covid-19 the week before.
Anna's husband stayed in Kyiv, where he works at the university. Mr Baker said they were in daily contact with him, and his welfare was a constant concern and reminder of the war.
He said: "It's a worry because the Russians have been shelling Kyiv more than they were. When we have calls with him at night it's dark because they have to keep the lights out so the Russians can't see where people are."
Anna is an English teacher, and Mr Baker said she wanted to soon start searching for a job, while Sviatik was preparing to go to school.
Since the war began on February 24 nearly five million Ukrainians have fled their country.
The number of refugees issued visas to stay with Norfolk families increased to more than 250.
Some are coming under the Ukraine Family Scheme and others through the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Broadland and South Norfolk councils have also been employing Ukrainian-speaking translators to help with the arrivals.