Finding refuge in the kind heart of England: Ukrainian family heads from their war-shattered homeland… to an idyllic Oxfordshire village
- Sergiy Horban’s wife, Angela, and children Artyom and Alisa, fled from Chernihiv
- Mr Horban, 43, remains in Ukraine, still working every day at a dental hospital
- His family have been offered sanctuary in the home of Polly and Peter Vacher, who are organising an Oxfordshire village’s bid to give homes to 50 refugees
- Residents of picture-postcard North Moreton – with a population of around 350 – are throwing open their arms and doors to help
On their 20th wedding anniversary, Sergiy and Angela Horban posed for a family snap at home.
Mrs Horban clutched a gift of a bouquet of flowers, as their son Artyom, 12, gave a thumbs up, and daughter Alisa, 13, cuddled their pet cat.
All smiling, they looked the very picture of happiness, without a care in the world.
But the very next day, February 24, Russia invaded their homeland and, say the family from the historic cathedral city of Chernihiv in north Ukraine, ‘life stopped’.
Mr Horban, 43, is head of the regional dental hospital and decided to move into the building.
Days later, the children saw a bomb explode 100ft from their home and have not been able to sleep normally since.
Then Mrs Horban’s father died from a heart attack in the village of Gorodnya, thought to have been caused by the stress of Russian tanks driving past his house.
Before the war: Sergiy and Angela Horban, with their children Artyom and Alisa – and cat Dym. On February 24, Russia invaded their homeland and, say the family from the historic cathedral city of Chernihiv in north Ukraine, ‘life stopped’
Her brother buried him in his garden. She could not attend because it was too dangerous to travel.
Like millions of other mothers, Mrs Horban, 45, eventually loaded the children in the family car and fled their home in heavily bombed Chernihiv.
Her husband stayed behind, to work at the hospital. Terrified and not knowing if she would see him or her home again, she says she drove ‘through non-stop tears’ to the western border of Ukraine.
She had never driven so far before – let alone under such horrific circumstances. Now there is some hope.
She and the children have been offered sanctuary in the home of Polly and Peter Vacher, the couple organising an Oxfordshire village’s remarkable bid to give homes to 50 refugees from the war.
The Daily Mail recently revealed how kind residents of picture-postcard North Moreton – with a population of around 350 – are throwing open their arms and doors to help.
Mrs Horban, 45, and the children have been offered sanctuary in the home of Polly and Peter Vacher (pictured), the couple organising an Oxfordshire village’s remarkable bid to give homes to 50 refugees from the war
The Daily Mail recently revealed how kind residents of picture-postcard North Moreton (above) – with a population of around 350 – are throwing open their arms and doors to help
They plan to use the village hall as a community centre for the refugees to enjoy lunches cooked by residents, and, hopefully, to make the whole experience less traumatic by being able to mix with fellow Ukrainians.
Mrs Vacher, 78, a former music teacher, became an amateur pilot aged 50, and has flown solo around the world twice in a single engine aircraft via the North Pole and the Antarctic.
She and her husband Peter, 79, a retired printing firm boss, live in a large 1970s bungalow on a 140-acre arable farm. They are offering their granny flat, which they think would be ideal for a mother and children.
As well as the Horbans, the villagers – with the help of a translator – now have enough refugees to fill all the beds they are offering in 16 properties. Refugees have been matched with the most suitable accommodation.
Mr and Mrs Vacher are looking forward to welcoming them into their home via daughter Alisa, who speaks a little English, unlike the rest of the family. The family’s visa applications were submitted this week.
Yesterday, Mr Vacher said: ‘The whole village is so looking forward to welcoming our guests and getting to know them.
‘We are sure that several long-lasting friendships will be forged.
‘Whilst waiting for their arrivals, we have received so many offers of help from English teachers, translators, help with social services, travel facilities, toys, books for primary children, babysitting and places at the local school.’
Mr Horban, who is originally from Sevastopol in Crimea, remains in Ukraine, still working every day at the regional dental hospital. The Horban family’s cat Dym, meaning ‘smoke’, is in Chernihiv with him. (Above, a destroyed building in Chernihiv on March 27)
But like many others desperate to help Ukrainian refugees, the villagers are frustrated by the bureaucracy involved.
The nine-page visa application forms are required for every member of a family including children.
Jonathan Elwes, a friend of the Vachers via their membership of the Royal Air Squadron, is working round the clock alongside a team of British Ukrainians to help clusters of hosts and their guests through what he calls ‘this nightmare of a challenge’.
He said: ‘If you have just escaped the total destruction of your home city, leaving your husband behind not knowing if he survived heavy bombardment, and you are responsible for young children, the last thing you should have to deal with is reams of bureaucracy, irrelevant questions, delays and empty promises.
‘These people are OUR front line and, my God, we have a duty of care, if ever there was such a duty.’
Mrs Vacher said: ‘We are talking about people who have lost family and friends and seen sights that no one should have to behold – yet our government puts up all these visa barriers and makes it as difficult as it can possibly do to sift through all the bureaucracy.
‘Since our visa applications have gone through, only one visa has come back, that is for a mother, but the visas for her two children have not come through. Another family have given up and gone straight to Italy where they are welcomed with open arms.
‘It is a disgrace, and a travesty and not only do we feel frustrated but we are ashamed. These people are not coming to sponge and stay for good – they want to go home as soon as possible.’
Mr Horban, who is originally from Sevastopol in Crimea, remains in Ukraine, still working every day at the hospital. The Horban family’s cat Dym, meaning ‘smoke’, is in Chernihiv with him.
An official service to match Ukrainian refugees with British host families was launched yesterday, three weeks after the Homes for Ukraine scheme opened.
The charity Reset Communities and Refugees will pair up refugees with suitable hosts and accommodation, after being given a £300,000 initial grant from the Government.
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