Nine-year-old child refugee celebrates Royal Ballet School place on first anniversary of Ukraine war

  • Exclusive: The Koletvinov family tell ITV Meridian's Joe Coshan they've loved settling into Herne Bay, but it's not been without its challenges after fleeing Ukraine.

After losing everything and being forced to flee thousands of miles away from home because of war, you'd be forgiven for taking a little time to settle in to new surroundings.

Since I met them last year in Calais, the Koletvinov family, from Kharkiv, have made the most of their new home in Kent.

They are all learning a new language, Sergei has found a new job, Simon has settled into nursery and Alisa has secured a place at the prestigious Royal Ballet School in London.

Speaking exclusively to ITV Meridian on the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, they tell me how the last year has been a big challenge.

The Koletvinov family, from left to right: Sergei, Simon, Alisa, Oksana Credit: ITV News Meridian

Sergei Koletvinov, 45, said: "It's very hard reminiscing when we met one year ago, it makes my heart beat more and more.

"I remember thinking, I'm not a young man anymore so I need to start at this age from the beginning and this was really difficult for me and for my family as well.

"I've tried to support them as best as I can.

"I've loved living in Herne Bay, the people are so friendly and have been so supportive of us."

Alisa Koletvinov secured a place at the Royal Ballet School after an audition. Credit: ITV News Meridian

As well as settling into a new primary school, Alisa has passed an audition to train at the prestigious Royal Ballet School in London.

And why stop there? The nine-year-old says she wants to become a professional ballerina and become the most well-known dancer at the school.

Her teacher, Amy Giancarlo, told ITV Meridian: "She's really settled in well to the Junior Associate programme and I really enjoy working with Alisa.

"Children who pass an audition have to show some potential in classical ballet, good musicality, artistry, co-ordination, a degree of flexibility, and of course that passion. So to get into the programme Alisa has showed all of that.

"She's got a whole story that, unless you asked her, you wouldn't know.

"So really the fact that she's been able to come to the programme and just get on with it with the rest of the students is really remarkable."

Oksana says her biggest challenge since moving to Kent from Kharkiv has been learning English Credit: ITV News Meridian

Oksana says her focus over the last year has been on being a mum, helping the children to settle into a new environment.

Speaking via Sergei's translation, Oksana told ITV Meridian: "My biggest challenge has been learning English.

"I've been going to classes in Canterbury and have made friends with other Ukrainian refugees who've moved here.

"Next time we speak, I'll make sure it's without a translator!"

Three-year-old Simon shows ITV Meridian how he's been learning to count in English

Simon, aged three, has started at a local nursery in Herne Bay and his parents say he couldn't have settled in any better.

Sergei, added: "He loves it. He's running every morning ahead of the mums."

The Koletvinovs were one of the first Ukrainian families with no links to the UK to arrive in the South East.

Sergei had a right to be in the UK, but his family didn't and had to wait to obtain visas in France.

Sir Roger Gale gives contact details on a pen to Sergei Koletvinov in Calais. March 2022. Credit: ITV News Meridian

They say their transition to Kent has been made easier by the help of North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale. Sergei says meeting the politician in Calais was a "gift from God".

For the first few weeks, the family stayed in the spare room of Mr Gale's son Tom, while Sergei searched for a job.

"We really feel like they are a part of our family. I want to say a big thank you to Tom and Roger.

"We still go to see them every few weeks so the children can play."

The Koletvinov's say the Gale's are a part of their family Credit: ITV News Meridian

Sir Roger Gale told ITV Meridian: "It's not easy being a refugee and I think everybody needs to understand that.

"What we need to make sure is that all of the Ukrainian children have the best start in life that we can give them here, in the hope those who want to go back home will one day be able to go back home.

"But in the meantime while that's not possible, we have to make life as good for them as we possibly can.

"And that's what I'm trying to do."

With Sir Roger's help, Sergei secured a job at Brakes in Aylesford, working in the warehouse.

Sergei Koletvinov with his manager at Brakes, Darren Foster Credit: ITV News Meridian

After Sergei expressed an interest in driving, the company sponsored him through their 'Changing Gears' programme to become a Class 2 HGV driver.

Now he delivers food across the South East. His manager, Darren Foster, said: "Sergei is a really good guy.

"He's been fantastic from day one, he's come in with a great work ethic and has really embraced it.

"When we heard about Sergei's circumstances, we felt compelled to see what we could do to support him.

"We can't begin to comprehend what his family have been through, the way he's taken it in his stride and just got on to normal day-to-day-life is something we can take for granted. It's fantastic."

Friday 24th February marks one year since Russia's invasion of Ukraine

The family say they don't know if they'll ever be able to return to Ukraine and their biggest dream for the next year is that the war will end.

But the seaside town is a place they're proud to call home for as long as they need to.

"The bloody war has to be finished. Someone has to stop this.

"We miss Kharkiv and we miss our family, but the people of Herne Bay have given us a great welcome and for that we say thank you."

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