First day back at school for five-year-old who fled war in Ukraine

  • Video report by Mel Barham

The first day at school is a monumental day for most children and their parents, but for five-year-old Sofia, it was especially important. 

In April 2022, she fled the war in Ukraine for safety in Greater Manchester. 

She and her mother Dina Sytnyk have now settled in Ashton Under Lyne, after a group of landlords stepped in to make a number of homes available to those fleeing the war torn country.

Sofia went into year one at St Peter's Primary School on Monday 4th September and she couldn't wait to get started. 

Sofia keeps her homeland close to her in school with hair ribbons in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. Credit: ITV Granada

"Her first words when she woke up this morning were - 'mama, today I'm going to year one!" said mum Dina.

The pair were living in the city of Vinnytsia in central Ukraine when the war began in 2022. 

Dina was working as a pharmacist, but the constant threat from missile attacks meant they felt they had to leave.

"It was the hardest decision of my life," she said: "I don't know if I will see people from my village alive again."

It was thanks to the Homes for Ukraine scheme that Dina and Sofia were able to find initital accommodation in Tameside. They have been welcomed by the community and now have their own home. 

Sofia's mum Dina Credit: ITV Granada

Sofia did not speak any English when she arrived in the UK, but since starting school she has picked up lots of words and can now chat confidently with her friends and is enjoying being part of the school community.

"It was a little bit scary at first but it was fun. I actually love being here," Sofia said.

Sofia has settled into life at St Peter's Primary School. Credit: ITV Granada

Headteacher John Wilson said: "We have a lot of children in school from across the world who speak different languages at school, but they pick English up quite quickly.

"Sofia is a confident little girl, she's not phased by anything. I have great hopes for her for the future."

Sofia had to leave her father and her hamster behind in Ukraine and she misses them, but is adapting to life in the UK: "I have friends and a home here," she said.

One day Dina and Sofia would love to return to Ukraine, but for now they are building a new life in the North West, and are forever grateful to those who helped them.