A YEAR on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and about 10 refugee families continued this week to be hosted by Wellington residents, with no end in sight to the war.

Ira Haidenko and her teenage daughter Yulia are in their second spell of being hosted by Ruth and David Knowlman.

Forty-three-year-old Ira and Yulia, aged 19, stayed for seven months last year with Mr and Mrs Knowlman after fleeing their home in Kharkiv.

They returned home for Christmas to be reunited with husband and father Andrew Haidenko, who remained in the city to continue his work as an orthodox priest, expecting to stay permanently.

But the situation proved too dangerous with the war continuing to rage around them and the pair were forced to journey back to Wellington.

Ira and Yulia keep in daily touch with Andrew – apart from on days when he does not have any electricity because of the continuing Russian missile strikes on Ukraine.

“There is shelling every day, especially now with the anniversary because Putin likes symbolism,” said Ira.

“We do not know how long it will go on for but Ukraine and the whole civilised world know what we are fighting for.

“There have been too many deaths to stop fighting now.”

Ira and Yulia have been granted three-year visas to stay in the UK after an initial six-month period expired and hope eventually to be able to live again in Ukraine.

Ukrainian refugees in Wellington

They were overwhelmed by the welcome they received in England after a journey of more than a month to escape the conflict.

Their flight began at 6 am one morning after a night sleeping in their car because a bomb the previous evening had landed in the garden of their home and blew out the windows.

They drove for several days via Kyiv to reach western Ukraine, and then travelled via Romania, Italy, and Bulgaria before arriving in Taunton with one suitcase between them and being registered with Mr and Mrs Knowlman.

Ira said: “We like England, and Wellington especially. There are so many good things, like the park, the Baptist church, the Basins which is very similar to my favourite park in Kharkiv, so green and beautiful, and lots of squirrels!”

And one of their top English favourites is, apple pie and clotted cream, along with caramel shortcake, and Bourbon biscuits.

Yulia, who is continuing her business degree studies online with her university in Kharkiv, said: “We were very surprised by the welcome from people here, everybody was smiling and asking how are we.

“They were so welcoming and people in church were praying for us. Mum was crying at the last service because people were praying for us.

“Even the dogs over here seemed to be smiling in comparison with Kharkiv where it is so tense.”

Although the war in Ukraine features daily in UK news media, Ira and Yulia tend to stay updated through channels from home which they access on their mobile phones.

Their picture of the war is somewhat different to the impression given to British television and radio viewers and listeners.

They point, for example, to large numbers of people whose first language is Russian and who want to be part of Russia, although wanting to stay in Ukraine.

The Orthodox church itself has been split with possibly up to 40 per cent, particularly among higher ranking members, siding with Russia.

Supermarkets and shops in Ukraine, especially in the cities, continue to be well stocked with food supplies, evidenced by videos which put many UK stores to shame.

Yulia said: “Despite all the shelling, Kharkiv lives, and our heroes are the communal services who are working all the time, removing destroyed houses and fixing electricity and water and other essential, even in the night, even under the bombing.”

Ira and Yulia have been especially grateful for all the support given them by Wellington Baptist Church, and the Blackdown Community Choir which provided spaces for them both to join.

Although she is not able to work, Ira rewards Ruth and David for their hospitality by cooking meals for them.

Ruth said: “Ira is a very good cook, and she makes lots of borscht for us. We sit and eat together. We pretty much do everything together. We are a family.”