'I only had 20 minutes to pack a bag and escape the war in Ukraine'

She had just 20 minutes to pack a bag before escaping from the war in the Ukraine.

By Nick Rennie
Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 3:57 pm
Nadiia looks down Church Street in Melton after escaping the Ukraine war (Nadiia asked us not to identify her in the photograph as she settles into life in the town)

And Nadiia is now getting used to her new life in Melton Mowbray - the first person to be taken in by a family in the borough under the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme.

The advance of the Russian invasion and the violent devastation wrought on her country has clearly left her mentally scarred.

But Nadiia (37) has been touched by the welcome she has had from Melton people and, particularly, from Phil and Karen Balding, who have given her a home off Asfordby Road.

Melton couple Phil and Karen Balding who have given a room in their home to Nadiia after she fled the Ukraine war

It is a world away from where she lived not far from the besieged north-east city of Kharkiv, where hundreds of civilians and Ukrainian troops have been killed by relentless Russian shelling.

Nadiia told the Melton Times: “I can’t put into words what it is like in my country now.

“I read every day about it but I don’t watch TV because I will cry.”

When she decided to leave, it all happened very quickly.

Nadiia admires St Mary's Church after escaping the Ukraine war (Nadiia asked us not to identify her in the photograph as she settles into life in the town)

“My friend said we are leaving in 20 minutes and we have a place in the car for you,” Nadiia recalled.

“I put some clothes and a few belongings in a bag.

“In our jeep was a man, his wife, two babies, another three people and a dog.”

The danger was not over, however, as the driver had to then plot a safe route avoiding various checkpoints manned by Russian troops in that area of Ukraine.

They drove for two days until reaching the relatively safer western part of the country.

She lived with her friends for a few weeks in a small rented apartment before going to live with her mother in Hungary but she was only allowed to stay for a short period of time.

Nadiia wanted to make a life for herself in a stable home and when she got in touch with the scheme offering homes for displaced Ukrainians in the UK, the Baldings made contact offering their Melton home as a place of sanctuary.

Detailed checks were made on them with the threat of trafficking a constant problem for vulnerable, single women seeking a safe place to live.

Nadiia had two video calls with the Baldings and soon knew they would be the perfect people to live with.

She said: “They looked like good people and they have been so kind to me.”

Nadiia, who asked us not to photograph her from the front while she settles into her new life, enjoys living in Melton and she is getting used to the cultural differences. She has yet to try a Melton pork pie but loves Stilton cheese.

“Melton is a wonderful place,” she said. “It is a small town but I have met a lot of nice and kind people since I came here.”

The Baldings are enjoying having Nadiia living with them and pleased they have been able to help her.

Karen explained: “We got involved because we were fed up watching the news every night and crying.

“We had helped raise money for people in Ukraine through the church but we felt we wanted to do something a bit more meaningful.”

Other people fleeing the Ukraine war are understood to be coming to live in the borough shortly and the Baldings are hoping to help create a local social link-up between them.

They are members of St Mary’s Church and say the church would be an ideal meeting place for them.

Karen added: “There is a lot of red tape to get through, sorting out things like a bank account, National Insurance and a place at the doctors surgery.

“We could write a handbook for other families interested in sponsoring people from Ukraine. We would like to offer help to others who are planning to do what we’ve done.”

Nadiia is keen to find a job, possibly in office administration work. She speaks good English already but is keen to improve.

Her life remains in limbo with the uncertainty over how long the Russians will be occupying parts of Ukraine and what life will be like when the war ends.

“I am grateful to the UK for the support you have given us,” added Nadiia.

“I think the air space should be closed over Ukraine however to help us fight back.

“I understand that nobody wants to make Putin more angry. But he has already done this to us and he will not stop.”

A quiz is being held at St Mary’s Church, in Melton, on Friday May 27, to raise money for the DEC Ukrainian Humanitarian Appeal.

Entry is for teams of four and costs £10 per person to enter, to include supper without drinks. Email quizmaster Richard Angrave at [email protected] or call 01664 569493 to book a place.

***Any Melton borough residents interested in giving a home to people in Ukraine must first register on the government website.

Tenants of Melton Borough Council can apply to take in someone through the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Standard council tenancy agreements say they have a right to take in lodgers to share their home with their family as long as it does not lead to overcrowding, they notify the council in advance and they take responsibility for the people living with them. Tenants can not sub-let their property though.