Cottage industry

Ukrainian engineer keen to work after fleeing to UK

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“My son… he teach me English… sometimes.” Oksana Pobodieova smiled across the small sitting room at 15-year-old Volodymr, nicknamed Vova, who shrugged modestly. “Some words I find hard also,” he said. “I learn English at school in Kyiv but speaking this not so easy here.”

Mother and son have been living in West Yorkshire for almost six months. Their problems adapting to new surroundings, especially communicating, are typical of the refugees from the war in Ukraine who began arriving last spring.

According to the latest government figures, almost 110,000 people have been given temporary visas under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which allows UK residents to sponsor a named individual or family. Of these, almost three quarters are in England. They represent a small part of a much bigger picture: 15.11 million border crossings from Ukraine have been recorded since February, most of the refugees fleeing to Poland.

Many of those helping refugees here are family members, descendants of displaced Ukrainians who came to the UK in the aftermath of the Second World War. But Oksana and her son have no family connections and are being hosted by people who simply wanted to help those fleeing the Russian invasion.

Initially, retired Keighley haulier Roger McDowell thought they might stay at his moorland farmhouse on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border, then decided such a remote location would restrict their independence. So he and a friend, Robin Wright, are sharing the cost of renting a cottage for them in the village of Cullingworth.

‘Mutual support’

“We chose Cullingworth because it’s a nice little community,” said McDowell. “There’s a Co-op, small shops, doctors, a pharmacy, a school for Vova and a bus stop outside the door. The presence there of another family of Ukrainian refugees provides a bit of comfort and mutual support.”

But they are encouraged to talk to each other in English. Like other refugees from the war, learning English has become their number one priority. Oksana has been catching a bus three mornings a week to Keighley College, which is holding special classes for the numerous arrivals from Ukraine. There are further opportunities to learn English provided by Keighley’s Good Shepherd Centre, run by a local charity to help the area’s socially disadvantaged people, many of them asylum seekers. In Bradford, the long-established Ukrainian Club has teamed up with Bradford College to offer weekly English classes.


Oksana’s husband Igor, a doctor in a Kyiv hospital, has remained behind since all males between the ages of 18 and 60 must help the war effort. To begin with she didn’t want to leave without him, and waited four months before deciding the city was unsafe for her and Vova. They took a train to Poland, then a flight to Liverpool John Lennon Airport. In daily contact with school friends in Ukraine, Vova has heard of a Russian rocket recently landing near their home and a drone crashing into a neighbour’s house.

Oksana worked as an engineer in Kyiv but her lack of English has stopped her finding work in Yorkshire.

“She’s really enthusiastic about working and we’ve been for a few job interviews but she’s over-qualified as far as the work goes,” says McDowell. “One was a cleaning job in which she’d have to supervise other cleaners but she was turned down because of her English. Same happened when she went for a job serving at a local shop.”

‘Grey area’

While Vova has struggled in English classes at Parkside School in Cullingworth, he has found maths to be a universal language and been placed in his year’s top set.

McDowell expressed concern about what happens at the end of the 12 months he and his friend have guaranteed to cover the costs of hosting Oksana and Vova. Beyond next summer is a “grey area”, he said. “What is the life going forward for those refugees we and many others are currently hosting?”

He is not confident that Bradford Council will be able to find accommodation for them. Another family of refugees from Ukraine he knows applied for a house or flat in the summer and were told their position on the council’s waiting list was 176. Three months later, when they checked again, they were still at 176.

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