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Ukrainian mother and six sons given keys to their new home

Ukrainian mother Lilia Onopa, 43, with her six children who fled Russian bombing (Bronwen Weatherby/PA)
Ukrainian mother Lilia Onopa, 43, with her six children who fled Russian bombing (Bronwen Weatherby/PA)

A Ukrainian mother and her six children who fled Russian bombing have been handed the keys to their new home in Wales.

Lilia Onopa, 43, and her children received an official welcome in Chepstow, South Wales, on Friday by members of the local community, Archbishop of Cardiff George Stack and Monmouthshire Conservative MP David Davies.

Having fled their home in a remote village north of Dnipro in central Ukraine, where military strikes began in early March, Ms Onopa and her boys travelled to Bucharest, Romania, by taxi after attacks on the port city of Odesa made alternative methods of travel impossible.

They landed in the Welsh town a week ago after waiting five weeks for the British Embassy to approve their online application.

At the ceremony Ms Onopa was given the keys to a bungalow, the former caretaker’s property which has been refurbished by volunteers from St Mary’s RC Primary School and Church with donations from across the parish.

Pupils, governors and PTA members along with church parishioners gathered with the archbishop and Mr Davies at the school to give her the keys.

Speaking of the horrors she and her children had encountered after the war began, Ms Onopa thanked everyone who had helped them get to a place of safety, including the British Government who she said came to her aid when there were issues with their applications.

As she recalled their experience escaping the fighting many in the room became tearful, including her interpreter.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Ms Onopa has been handed the keys to their new home in Chepstow, Wales (Bronwen Weatherby/PA)

Ms Onopa said: “The horrible situation happening to our country is because one person, one regime decided my country should not exist, that my nation should not exist.

“Imagine living next to a neighbour.

“He might have completely different opinions but you do live together.

“And one day your neighbour decides to invade your house, destroy your house, kill your kids, just because they think you’re going to invade them.

“I’m sure every mother can understand, I was not so much scared for my own life but for the lives of my children,” she added.

“We saw our cities being destroyed, rockets falling on our houses and people dying, and the worst thing was we could do nothing to stop it.

“All we could think about is what are we going to do next.”

Ms Onopa said she posted an appeal for help on social media and a group in the UK said they would help her.

She said travelling to the border she had seen thousands of displaced families, desperate for a route out of the war-torn areas.

In tears, she told the PA news agency: “I was terrified I would lose my children so I wrote the addresses and contact details of my family in their rucksacks and clothes in the hope that should I die someone would know where to take them to safety.”

Since arriving in the UK Ms Onopa has said she has felt “overwhelmed” with support.

“When I first saw the home where we were going to live, visited the school where my children will go and went to Sunday service I was overwhelmed with all the support.

“I don’t have enough words to describe how grateful I am to everyone who helped.

“I’m overwhelmed with the feeling that my kids can finally feel safe.”

The family has moved to Wales following Russia's invasion of Ukraine (Bronwen Weatherby/PA)
The family has moved to Wales following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Bronwen Weatherby/PA)

Ms Onopa said she is keen to learn English and has already enrolled in classes.

Having been a keen cook and baker in Ukraine, she said she would like to start her own pastry business, and she wants to volunteer to help other Ukrainian refugees settle.

She said her sons Dimitro, five, Sergiy, eight, Nikolay, 10, Illia, 11, Rusean, 13 and Oleg, 15, are looking forward to beginning school.

But the devastation continuing in her own country where many of her family members and friends are still remains a source of fear and turmoil, she said.

“As a nation we haven’t stopped fighting but its very difficult.

“Just a couple of days ago I saw a 23-year-old boy from my village had been buried after being killed by the invaders.”

Presenting Ms Onopa with the keys, Mr Stack said: “This is an opportunity to say to our new family croesi i Gymru, welcome to Wales.

“The land of sanctuary.

“And we hope and pray that you will be happy and fulfilled and content as you begin to understand what wonderful people live and work in Wales.”

Chair of governors, Phil Cotterell said: “Lilia and her family will not be alone, there is an incredible network of support here in Chepstow, and as a governor at St Mary’s, I am thrilled that we are welcoming children from Ukrainian refugees into our school family.

“We know from the generosity of the community supporting our appeal that all families fleeing Ukraine will be made most welcome in South Wales.”

The appeal was supported by a number of local businesses including Alcumus and Barratt and David Wilson Homes South Wales, and community groups such as the Chepstow and Caldicot Lions and Chepstow Roundtable.

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