What a horrible shock to wake up on Monday morning and hear the news that Putin had ordered widespread bombing across Ukraine. My refugee family is now living to the west of the country, in Lviv. We had assumed it might be safer away from the front line, but so far dozens of missiles have rained down on the region and who knows where it will end.
I texted Zoriana immediately: ‘So distressed by what I’m hearing on the news. Let me know you and Ustym are OK. I wish you were here.’
Never before have I written those words with such absolute conviction. Oh how I wish they were here!
It was several anxious hours before I heard back. ‘Don’t worry. We are still OK. Ustym is in the basement of the university. I’m in my basement too. No electricity or water. The internet was very bad. The situation is awful.’
Jenni Murray (center) is concerned about her Ukrainian refugees back in Lviv. Zoryana (left) had gone back with her son Ustym (right)
A little later came: ‘The electricity has just appeared in Lviv. So does the water. It was a very difficult day. Hope tomorrow will be safe.’
So far so good for them both, but no one knows how this war may escalate and I worry about them terribly.
It was in March that I signed up for the UK’s Homes For Ukraine scheme. I had just enough room in my little London house to accommodate a woman and her child. I found Zoriana and Ustym through a Ukrainian woman who lives locally.
Their part of Ukraine had not been as heavily bombed as cities in the east, but there was bombardment of military installations near Zoriana’s small town, some 50 miles from Lviv.
They spent night after night sheltering in the basement of their block of flats. Zoriana is 39 and an English teacher. Ustym was 17 and his mother, a single parent, was desperate to get him out of danger before his 18th birthday. After that, she believed, he would not be allowed to leave and could be called up to fight.
When I picked them up at Luton airport in April, I knew immediately they would be a pleasure to have in my home. We greeted each other warmly and soon became the greatest of friends. The first months were hard work. But at least they were safe.
Smoke rising over the city after Russian missile strikes, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Lviv, Ukraine
Ustym spent hours doing online lessons in his room in preparation for the Ukrainian equivalent of his A-levels. Zoriana found cleaning jobs and we dealt with masses of bureaucracy together.
We met officials at our local council; travelled across London to get biometric visas which would last for three years, enabling them to go home and then return; and registered them with my local GP. We hit a huge barrier when it came to Ustym’s education. Ukrainian exams could not be done online.
His English was too poor for school or university in this country. In June Zoriana was persuaded to take him home so he could do his exams there. If he did well, we could arrange intensive English courses and get him into university here. That was the plan.
They came back to me last month, the day before his 18th birthday. We went out to dinner to celebrate, but Ustym was clearly miserable. It became clear to me that he desperately wanted to go home. He’d done so well in his exams and had been offered a place at Lviv University to study medicine.
Persuading his mother that it might be the right thing for him was difficult. They are so close, but she had to accept that he was now an adult and their relationship might be damaged if she forced him to follow her plans and give up his own.
Eventually, she gave in. They flew home a few weeks ago when Lviv was far calmer. Zoriana had decided to stay near to Ustym, making sure he settled into his studies, before returning to me and making her life here in England. She is welcome to come back to mine at any point — but I doubt she will.
Ustym has now been told to study at home so the nest is not so empty for now.
I made a promise when I joined the UK Government’s scheme to offer housing and support for six months, and received £350 a month from the council to cover expenses. I know from the WhatsApp group to which I belong that not everyone has found hosting as satisfying as I have. I would have been happy to continue for much longer.
The last thing I expected was that, six months on from that happy day in April, my wonderful Ukrainian guests would be back where they started — and in even greater danger.
That pigeon’s ruffling my feathers
Sarah Jessica Parker pictured on the set of ‘And Just Like That’ in New York, carrying the £650 JW Anderson pigeon bag
What is the point of a bag that looks like a pigeon and holds only a phone and a lipstick? Sarah Jessica Parker was snapped carrying the £650 JW Anderson bag on the set of Sex And The City series And Just Like That. What she really needs is a giant tote for a wallet, phone, make-up, pens, notepad, emergency medication… I call mine my life-support system.
- Disappointed in Strictly this year. ‘Celebrities’ I don’t recognise, it’s feeling past its sell-by date. So I record it, spin through the tired old scripts and just watch each dance. Saves an hour and a half.
Daisy’s battle for rape victims
Every so often you come across a woman whose courage, determination and resourcefulness simply blow you away. Daisy is one such. She always knew she had been adopted.
When she was 13, she saw a document with information about her birth parents. Her mother had been 14 when she was born. Her father was much older. Her conception, she found, followed ‘sexual intercourse without consent’.
She found her mother and, in 2015, tracked down her father. In 2019 she persuaded her mother to make a statement about her rape. DNA confirmed Carvel Bennett was her father. He was convicted and sent to jail.
In the past year between 2,080 and 3,356 babies were conceived by rape in England and Wales. Daisy is fighting for a change in the law which would classify such children as ‘victims of rape’. It would be called Daisy’s Law. May she succeed.
- Ian Cushing, English lecturer at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, says efforts to improve vocabulary in schools are ‘racist, classist and ableist’. The presenter Amol Rajan says too many at the BBC used received pronunciation. Neither seems to appreciate that the best lesson is the ability to write and speak clearly. Innit?
My dogs are emotional supports too
Jenni’s dog Madge pictured. Jenni says that agrees with Prince Harry that dogs are emotional support
Can’t say I’ve been too impressed with anything Prince Harry has had to say recently — but I’m with him on what he calls the ‘emotional support’ you get from dogs.
You won’t find a human being who never argues with you, never gets cross, never sulks and greets you with boundless enthusiasm every time.
Give me a dog any day!