From Kharkiv to Kent: Two Ukrainian students hosted by lecturer thanks to power of music

  • Watch video report by ITV News Meridian's Joe Coshan

Two students who fled the war in Ukraine have been paired with a university lecturer thanks to a British Phonographic Industry (BPI) scheme for refugees.

Marina Vosmirova and Ernest Sirota, both 20, have moved into the Tonbridge home of Dr Ruth Herbert, a music psychologist and senior lecturer at the University of Kent.

Their pairing came thanks to the help of Stefania Passamonte, founder of the London Academy of Music (LPMAM), who was working with music students in Ukraine when the war broke out.

She said: "Many of the students were hiding in basements and they wanted to carry on with their lessons because it was the only time they could be spaced out with the reality of the horror of the war.

"It's so important they can carry on their studies and the record industry (BPI) were amazing helping to match students and professors with people in the music industry. We can give them jobs in the record label or with anything that is connected with what they were doing in Ukraine.

"And above all we can help these students with scholarships to help them continue with their studies at LPMAM.

"Many of them were in their last year, about to do their exams. The students that have arrived in the UK already are asking, 'when can I do my exams? I have to carry on'.

"Their futures were completely scattered in pieces and It's so great the fact that their life has not been broken."

Ernest recalled the moment the first bombs dropped.

"I was at home with my friend. We heard a loud bang and thought it was fireworks. Then we realised it wasn't fireworks. We immediately went to the station to get a train, but it was so busy we couldn't get on.

"After two days in a basement, I managed to catch a train to Poland but did not take my guitar. I waited in Poland and a month later my dad's friend came to deliver it to us."

After working with students for several decades, Dr Ruth Herbert said she felt impelled to help when she heard about the scheme.

"We know that music unites people and it goes across boundaries.

Ernest (left), and Marina (centre), receiving a standing ovation at a scholarship fundraising concert for Ukrainian refugees in London. Credit: ITV News Meridian

"The thought of these young people who were studying in Kharkiv University - a wonderful cultural centre with music festivals - and that's ripped away.

"I'm used to people practising in the house, it's not very loud, it's just been a joy. They do practise a lot, I would say six to eight hours a day.

"They are so absorbed in that music and in the act of playing, it is a lifeline at the moment."

Since arriving in the UK, Ernest and Marina have had the opportunity to perform at Drapers Hall in London alongside other Ukrainian refugees for a scholarship fundraising concert.

Marina says she spent the first few months of the war crying and constantly checking her emails for news on her visa application and to be here in Kent now is like a dream.

She said: "I never thought I would study in London and now sitting here, I can't believe it. It's a perfect life what is happening now. Getting to perform with other refugees at a special concert was perfect.

"Now I can do what I want, I feel it is my job [to perform]. It is what I must do in my life.

"We really want to say a huge thank you to Stefania, she has always supported us and to our new British family with Ruth, Rob and Asha. This generous welcome is amazing, we feel safe, feel like home and feel this love from British people."