‘We escaped Putin's guns – so we know why so much more support is needed'

Couple reflect on the harrowing scenes in Ukraine after reaching Belsize Park

Thursday, 24th March — By Isabelle Stanley

Mila and Sasha

Sasha and Milk are safe now in Belsize Park


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A COUPLE who fled artillery fire in Ukraine have described their terrifying journey to the UK and pleaded with the council for more help for new arrivals.

Sasha and Mila fled their home in Chernihiv when it came under heavy fire and after days of driving across Europe, found refuge with their son Alex in Belsize Park.

Now, they’re asking for more help from the council as they try to find out how to register as refugees, find accommodation, sign up to the NHS, access psychological support, get a parking permit for their car and a million other small things. Their last moments in their home were spent sheltering in a basement with 10 friends.

Mila, 58, said: “It was very cold, we took all our old blankets and pillows down there. Every 10 to 15 minutes a siren would go off and we would have to run down there.”

As she spoke, her husband, Sasha, 70, played a video he took in their garden of the sound of explosions.

Mila added: “In the evening we couldn’t turn on the lights, we would walk around the house with a flashlight, because there were search drones that were light sensitive, and if they saw light they would send a signal and artillery would come.”

A photo the couple took on the road out of Ukraine

They made the heartbreaking decision to leave and set off in their car with a friend and her six-year-old daughter.

The child had shrapnel in her arm from when their house was bombed.  It took them four days to drive to the Romanian border.

The roads leaving the country were so full of fleeing cars that one 20km stretch took them half a day.

Even though they are safe in London now, Mila said: “It’s hard, it’s tough every day learning that the buildings and places you know have been destroyed. It was a beautiful, peaceful town – like here – and then the next day, it was all upside down.”

Sasha showed another video of their church in Chernihiv being bombed. Shortly after, their local kindergarten was hit.

Mila said: “It’s the realisation of the savagery of it. You can understand targeting military sites, but not hospitals and churches. Everyone thought it would be impossible for them to do that, but then it sank in and the hope vanished.”

Before retirement the couple ran a neurological recovery clinic for stroke victims. Now, Russian soldiers are living in their clinic. Sasha and Mila count themselves as the lucky ones – they already had a valid visitor’s visa before the war started, from visiting Alex’s newborn daughter.

This meant they didn’t have to wait weeks and their son could meet them in Hungary and bring them straight home. However, they said they had received no help since arriving. Sasha laughed when asked if he had received psychological support.

“The only support we have is that little baby, our son and his wife,” he said, pointing at the seven-week infant asleep on the sofa.

Their son Alex said trying to access support and find information has been impossible. He said: “I’ve tried googling about the council’s plans, and there are lots of big words about how they’re going to help – but I can’t find anything tangible. “

You look on the council’s website and there is a statement about how they’ve had conversations with tea and biscuits about what they’re going to do – but the only concrete thing is that if I add my mum and dad to my council tax it won’t increase – which isn’t very helpful or generous in the grand scheme of things.”

He added: “I can’t find any dedicated information – just a general enquiries line.” Much of the responsibility lies with the Home Office.

Alex said: “The solidarity and signs of support is comforting. The 100,000 people who signed up to host refugees with the Homes for Ukraine scheme is heartwarming. But it’s so far from clear how it will work – there is no information on how Ukrainians can find a sponsor – it’s completely opaque.”

The council said teams across its services are working with the voluntary sector and community organisations, to put in place wraparound support for anyone who arrives in Camden.

It said it is currently offering safeguarding support for any vulnerable adults or children who may need it, support for anyone arriving with urgent medical or mental health needs, overseen by the NHS, assistance with onward journeys, Ukrainian and Russian interpreters to help with queries along with a rest centre and emergency supplies.

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