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‘We won’t give up Ukraine’ refugee says after finding a home in the UK

Sofiia Klimina is staying with a couple in Camberley, Surrey, after fleeing the Kyiv suburb of Irpin.

05 April 2022

A Ukrainian refugee “so happy” to be living in the UK said the bravery of those left behind has made her love her homeland “a hundred times more”.

Fighting forced Sofiia Klimina, 26, to flee her home in Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv near the city of Bucha – an area where dead civilians have been pictured in the streets, drawing widespread accusations of war crimes by Russian forces.

Ms Klimina came to the UK at the end of March after finding British couple Neil Baker, 61, and Helen Hayes, 52, on a website connecting sponsors with refugees.

Mr Baker and Ms Hayes, who signed up to the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme when it launched last month, said they “love” having Sofiia in their home in Camberley, Surrey, and “can only empathise with what she has been through”.

Helen Hayes (centre), Neil Baker and Sofiia Klimina in Camberley, Surrey
Helen Hayes (centre), Neil Baker and Sofiia Klimina in Camberley, Surrey (Helen Hayes/PA)

“We are a strong people and we won’t give up Ukraine,” Ms Klimina told the PA news agency.

“Our army, our volunteers, and the rest of the people are doing everything possible to save our country. Our people are very united.

“I have started to love our homeland a hundred times more.

“In the UK I am safe and I am happy that I am living with this family.”

Ms Klimina was not aware of the brutality that has recently been depicted in Irpin and Bucha, but said she is “very angry” with the Russian people, many of whom she believes support the war.

“The Russian people have been brainwashed and it is useless to say something to them,” she said.

Ms Klimina, who had only left Ukraine once before, waited in a queue at the Polish border for almost a day before travelling on a packed train to Poland where refugees lay in the vestibule.

From there, she travelled to Germany, the Netherlands, and Brussels before reaching the UK.

“The hardest thing about the journey was the unknown,” she said.

“The feeling of not knowing what was coming or what was happening. You don’t know where you will live.”

Her elderly grandparents remain in Ukraine, sheltering in basements in the Donetsk region where Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to refocus his troops.

Sofiia Kliminia (right) and her sister in Amsterdam
Sofiia Kliminia (right) and her sister in Amsterdam (Sofiia Klimina/PA)

In 2014, Ms Klimina’s family were bombed out of their homes in the region when Russian forces annexed Crimea. She fought in the Donetsk People’s Militia for over three years, then trained as a nurse.

“It was very hard to leave Ukraine and I sometimes wish I could go back to see my family who remain there,” she said.

Her UK hosts are planning to help Ms Klimina improve her English speaking skills and translate her Ukrainian medical qualifications so she can continue her nursing career in the UK.

Eight days after Mr Baker and Ms Hayes applied to sponsor Ms Klimina, the Government granted her permission to travel.

Mr Baker believes they are “the lucky ones” to have gone through the process so quickly, as thousands of British hosts are waiting weeks for a response to their sponsorship applications.

He said: “It’s almost as though there isn’t a war on. They’re processing applications merrily as if everything’s normal, but nothing is normal.

“We do not understand why the Home Office cannot bring people over. They have sponsors waiting for them.”

So far, 4,700 visas from the Homes for Ukraine scheme have been issued and 32,200 applications have been received.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are moving as quickly as possible to ensure that those fleeing Ukraine can find safety in the UK through the Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine.

“We have streamlined the process so valid passport holders do not have to attend in-person appointments before arriving in the UK, simplified our forms and boosted caseworker numbers, while ensuring vital security checks are carried out.”

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