In 1997, Jen and Ian Walsh from Torquay answered a call for British families to take in Ukrainian children from areas affected by the Chernobyl incident.
They were given a day and time to pick up two little girls from Heathrow and were instructed to provide them with a nice holiday by the British seaside for a couple of weeks.
Out of that initial contact grew a close friendship with one of the girls, Lana, who was only eleven years old when she first came to stay with the family. She returned several times after that and stayed in close contact with them, as she became good friends with Ian’s and Jen’s own children.
Today, Lana is 35 years old, married with two children of her own, one of which is only four months old. When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Lana was in her home town Odessa when the Walshes contacted her. While they were on the phone, they could hear a big explosion in the background, making it very clear that war had indeed arrived on their friend’s doorstep.
Since then, Lana and her children have made their way to Romania via Moldova, where they do not know anyone and are trying to come to Britain via the new UK Government Local Sponsorship Scheme with the help of the Walshes. While the paperwork apparently is being formalised now, it is very difficult to tell how much time will pass before Lana and her children will be able to come to Britain.
Heartbreakingly, Lana had to leave her husband in Ukraine, who has stayed behind to fight. Her mother, who refused to leave her home town, is also still in Odessa. Speaking to Ian Walsh, he said: “Lana is absolutely terrified and has absolutely no idea when she is going to see them again.”
Of course, an experience as traumatic and dangerous as the one Lana finds herself in does not leave anyone unscathed. Describing the changes she witnessed in Lana since war broke out, Jen stated: “Lana is a very intelligent, astute young lady. She is a professional teaching English as a foreign language, but over the past couple of weeks we have seen her becoming a shadow of herself, she is very down and depressed and scared.”
It is impossible to imagine what Lana and millions of other Ukrainians are experiencing at the moment, and the possibility of some of them being offered a route to Britain and other safe countries is only a small beacon of hope in the current situation. Nonetheless, the Local Sponsorship Scheme is certainly one of the most significant ways to help available to Britons at the moment.
Let’s hope Lana and her children will arrive safely in Torquay as soon as possible and will find comfort in the familiarity of the area, although of course nothing will ever be possible to replace Ukraine as their home.
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