Ukrainian refugees arriving in Wales - ‘The minute I stepped on to this land I knew I was safe’

For the first few months, 64 year old Marta Burak continued to live in her home in western Ukraine. From the very first morning the war broke out, the retired school teacher feared for her and her family's lives.

"The war broke on the February 24 and on that very morning we heard the explosions because our local airport was bombed on that very morning. 

“We left Ukraine on the 10th May so from February to May I was staying in Ukraine.

"Life was quite different than it used to be before and not only for me but for all Ukraininas it just changed."

Marta now lives in Wales, but her son, daughter in-law and son in-law are still in Ukraine, as most men are not permitted to cross the border.

There are currently 2,501 Ukrainian refugees now living in Wales.

Marta and her family are very grateful for the support they’ve received since arriving here in Wales, but says she has left “half her heart” In Ukraine with her family.

"I was leaving Ukraine with some sort of anxiety, what will happen and I was not sure but now I tell you again and again I could never expect that kind, that level of hospitality that we are feeling and experiencing now,” she continued.

Marta is currently living in a specialist camp run by youth organisation Urdd Gobaith Cymru. It offers a place to stay, food, education and advice. 

This centre is being run as part of the Welsh Government’s ‘super sponsor scheme’ and provides an opportunity for refugees to have support and assistance when they first arrive in Wales. 

Sian Lewis, the CEO Urdd Gobaith Cymru, told ITV Cymru Wales:  “We offer a complete wrap-around service where there’s education, there’s all the support they need in regards to the benefits, the moving on, the visa applications, everything here. 

“So, they have that and that’s in a stand alone block with us. Then there’s another designated block for the schools and the activities they can do around the centre.” 

There are currently two hundred and twenty two people staying at the centre, 90 of whom are school aged children able to resume education through the daily lessons being provided.

More than 1,700 Ukrainian refugees in Wales are sponsored by individuals.

Kateryna Halenda was a language teacher, running her own business in Ukraine before the war broke out. 

She arrived here in Wales at the beginning of June with her two children, Oleksander, nine, and four-year-old Artem. 

When asked what coming to Wales has given her, Kateryna said: "It has given us everything, the sense of safety first of all. 

“We are extremely happy to be here and everybody here is very friendly and you feel like you are at home.

“Even though your home is 3,000 kilometres away, all the staff give you the feeling [of home] here."

 Like many of the 70,000 Ukrainian refugees now in the UK, Kateryna had to leave her husband behind. 

 Olena Androshchuk, a 36-year-old website content writer, has also moved to Wales with her ten-year-old daughter and four-year-old son. 

 "It was a big decision to leave Ukraine. I didn't want to leave, especially without my husband. With my two kids, I was so afraid,” she told ITV Cymru Wales.

 Ukrainian refugees in Wales in numbers

Sixty families have arrived in Wales since April under the Welsh Government’s super sponsor scheme, but earlier this month it announced it was pausing the scheme in order to "refine" arrangements to "continue to deliver a high standard of support".

On a visit to the Welcome Centre this week the First Minister said that while facilities are working well, it is now having to address the ‘challenge’ of moving the Ukrainian refugees on to more permanent accommodation. 

​​"The challenge of the next few weeks is that we have move-on arrangements so that people who come here for a few weeks are able to pause for a moment, breathe in and feel they are somewhere safe.”