Ukrainian family settles into life in Bonnyrigg

A Ukrainian family who fled war in their homeland to find peace in Bonnyrigg have spoken of the kind welcome they have received as they settle into their new life here.

Valentyna Bondarets (67), her daughter Viktoriia Trofymenko (44) and granddaughter Alissa Trofymenko (10) arrived in Midlothian on April 27, after fleeing their home town of Romny in the east of the country at the start of the conflict. The trio originally went to Poland before staying with a family friend in Italy for two months. They then had to look for a more permanent home after it became clear that Russia’s invasion of their country showed no signs of ending soon.

Through the Homes for Ukraine scheme the three family members made arrangements to stay in Bonnyrigg with electrical engineer Damian Gad (42), his wife Jennifer (39) and their children Niamh (5) and Tomasz (12).

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Valentyna spoke about the kind welcome her family has received in Scotland.

L to R:Damian and Jennifer Gad, with Niamh on her lap. Alisa, Tomasz, Viktoriia and Valentyna (at back) at home in Bonnyrigg.

She said: “People had to leave the country to save their lives. But where could we go? How could we find a safe place? Our brains froze in shock.

"Having some level of English we tried to choose an English speaking country. We got information about the Ukrainian sponsorship scheme (Homes for Ukraine), applied and found a sponsor family quickly.

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"Jen and Damian Gad’s family from Bonnyrigg invited us to live with them. The process of getting visas and our coming here was not easy or quick. Only thanks to Jen and her efforts we overcame and solved our problems and difficulties.

"Why are people we have never met before so attentive, caring and generous? Why do they postpone their business and work to help us?

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"We were met like the dearest people in the family with a great hospitality and a lot of presents! We have got everything we need – from the roof over our heads to a part of the family’s hearts.

"The people smile and help everywhere: at the library and bank, at the medical centre and Midlothian Council offices. Every person is helpful and sympathetic.

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“They not only help to solve our problems but try to predict our next needs, always willing to give a hand. Telling the truth we could not even hope or imagine such warm, caring support.”

Recalling the shock when Russian troops and tanks poured into her country on February 24, Valentyna added: “Nobody could believe it. In fact almost every family in Ukraine either has relatives or close friends in Russia. It was difficult to believe that red flag tanks were in the streets, bombing and killing. It was not neither a horrible film or a tale – it was now our reality.”

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Jennifer, who works for her family’s catering business, explained why they opened their door to complete strangers.

She said: "We have the space, that’s why we did it. We all felt a bit helpless watching what was happening in Ukraine. So for us it was a no-brainer to apply to the Homes for Ukraine scheme. They were the first family that asked us. I think we have been really lucky.

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“The family are keen to try and settle in and learn English as well as they can. They have had to start a life here from scratch. And I think they were in a bit of shock when they arrived.

"It was quite funny, they had been telling us what they had read about Scotland on the internet, that we are all very serious people, there is no sunshine and there is sheep everywhere! So the reality is so different to what they were expecting.

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"It’s been a good experience for us, but it is hard. There are seven of us now living under the one roof, but it has still been totally worth it.

"And it’s maybe not as much a culture shock for us as my husband is Polish, Polish and Ukrainian are quite similar languages so we can communicate with our guests.”

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Speaking about the support the family has received, Jennifer added: “I can’t say anything positive about the visa system, but the council has been great.

"And local people have been dropping things off at the school gates, so the family has everything they need, which is amazing.

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"I just imagine myself in their position, having to look after my children in a warzone, with nowhere to go. So for me it wasn’t even a consideration to not help them.

"Val told me they were sleeping in their clothes in the hallway with a bag of certificates and passports, ready to go, but their town was surrounded quite quickly and they couldn’t make an exit.

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"They were told there was a half hour window to get out safe and they had to go then and there."