Ukrainian sisters secure prestigious music school places after finding sanctuary in Northumberland

Sisters playing at piano in church
Khrystyna and Sasha Mykhailichenko are embarking on the next stage of their musical careers. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Sisters from Ukraine have won places at two of the UK's most prestigious music schools after fleeing war last year.

Khrystyna and Sasha Mykhailichenko arrived in the UK last June after escaping their homeland following the Russian invasion.

After facing many challenges, the girls, who now live in Northumberland, are preparing to develop their musical education at world-renowned schools in the south east.

Pianist Khrystyna, who is 17, will embark on a four year degree course at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

She told ITV Tyne Tees that learning the news was a dream come true.

She said: "It was fantastic, it was just brilliant and I felt that I've achieved what I wanted, and it's a great feeling."

Khrystyna's 12 year-old sister Sasha, who plays violin, will join the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, which was founded by the famous musician and composer.

Sasha described the offer as "an amazing opportunity" and "a really big chance" to improve her skills.

The sisters are currently living with a host family in the village of Corbridge. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Since the summer of 2022, the sisters have been living in Corbridge with their mother Nataliia.

After fleeing their home near Kyiv, they were welcomed into the home of Sheilagh Matheson and her husband Chris.

Ms Matheson explained that while they knew the girls were musical, they had not appreciated the extent of their talents until shortly before the family arrived.

She said: "We have been plunged into this world of top end music and it's been a real education to see how much effort and dedication they put into it."

The girls practice their instruments for several hours each day, something that is appreciated by both neighbours and passing visitors.

Ms Matheson added: "On hot days the windows are open and I have watched passers-by and you can see them thinking - 'where's that music coming from?' and then they just stand outside the house just listening and thinking - 'that is amazing, that's fantastic'."

Since arriving in the region Khrystyna has also performed, on a more official basis, to North East audiences.

She has playing a number of concerts including at St Andrew's church in Corbridge.

She said she valued the way that people here appreciate her music.

She said: "Slowly you start getting in contact with different people who are interested in organising classical music concerts and I must say for me, a big thing was to get to know English audience, English people, how they listen to classical music because they are amazing."

While the family has developed close links with communities in Northumberland, they are now looking for a new base in the south east, a convenient distance from the two music schools.

Ms Matheson said that was proving a challenge: "How do you find accommodation in the home counties?"

"It is," she said, "proving to be really, really difficult so we are hunting to find some independent accommodation where they really can start a new life."

It is another hurdle for the sisters who have been through so much, while still determined to enable their musical skills to flourish.

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