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Four-generation Ukrainian family of 10 move into Cambridgeshire home donated by businessman





A family of 10 spanning four generations who fled the war-torn Ukrainian city of Kharkiv are moving into a Cambridgeshire home donated for their use by a businessman.

Mick Swinhoe shows Iryna Starkova and her grandchildren around the kitchen of their new home in Caldecote. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651031)
Mick Swinhoe shows Iryna Starkova and her grandchildren around the kitchen of their new home in Caldecote. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651031)

Mick Swinhoe, chairman of Swavesey-based industrial automation firm Z-Tech Control Systems, said he bought the house near his own in Caldecote just before war broke out as a “project house”.

But the 52-year-old was connected with a Ukrainian family via Facebook and wants the house to be used for “something more useful until I do something else with it”.

“It’s a better use for it really,” he said. “I can do what I want to do later when things get better.”

Roman Starkov, right, with his family who fled their home in Kharkiv in the Ukraine with following the Russian invasion. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651840)
Roman Starkov, right, with his family who fled their home in Kharkiv in the Ukraine with following the Russian invasion. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651840)

The family, aged from 10 to 90, have come to the UK under the Ukraine Family Scheme and were helped by their relative Roman Starkov, who is a British citizen.

The 38-year-old, from Cambridge, has lived in the UK for 20 years since coming here to study. The software developer helped his family the visa process which he described as “pretty involved”.

He said: “You have to fill out arcane forms, and for such a big group there’s a lot of repetition, but once that was sorted we went to a visa application centre, they processed us very quickly, that was in Albania.”

Ludmila Starkova, 90, right, who fled Kharkiv in the Ukraine, does not hold an international passport but a solution was found at each border. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651024)
Ludmila Starkova, 90, right, who fled Kharkiv in the Ukraine, does not hold an international passport but a solution was found at each border. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651024)

He said his 90-year-old grandmother Ludmila Starkova does not have a valid international passport and had wanted to remain in Ukraine.

“On every border that was a challenge,” he said. “Fortunately every single border they figured something out and allowed her to pass.”

Eight of the family flew from Albania to Luton airport, with Roman’s sister Valeriia Starkova, 37, and father Mykola Starkov, 59, travelling by car and ferry, arriving four days later. They brought some of their belongings and their two dogs, Yorkshire terrier Mikki and mini Maltese Florie, both aged two.

Kamila Starkova, 11, is reunited with her dog Florie. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651022)
Kamila Starkova, 11, is reunited with her dog Florie. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651022)

Roman said he has “mixed emotions” now his family have safely fled Ukraine. “Yes they are safe, that’s amazing. They’ve still lost everything. There’s still hope that maybe they can go back and maybe what they left behind will still be there. Maybe not.

“And there’s a lot of uncertainty about their future here. Will they fit in, will they find a place, will they feel comfortable? I don’t know.”

Valeriia said that when the war broke out in Kharkiv “it was 5am, we packed a few suitcases and I went to my mum’s home and we stayed there for five days as it was so scary to go outside”.

“We were in the basement,” she said. “We couldn’t go outside. We stayed five days in the basement without going anywhere.

“Then we decided that we had to leave as we couldn’t sleep, it was so scary. We just put our bags in the cars and went. We were so afraid someone would shoot our car or something like that. Recently friends of my friends were shot like that.

“It was so scary but we managed to go through the borders and when we passed several cities we felt relieved as we couldn’t hear those bombs and those scary noises. The first night we slept it was so quiet.”

Valeriia Starkova and her daughter Kamila, who fled their home in Kharkiv in the Ukraine with their family following the Russian invasion. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651059)
Valeriia Starkova and her daughter Kamila, who fled their home in Kharkiv in the Ukraine with their family following the Russian invasion. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651059)

She said her journey to the UK took 20 days and they were “exhausted” but it was “such a relief” to arrive at the house in Caldecote.

“I can feel maybe I have a home again because I feel that I lost everything that I had,” she said. “My kids (Alikhan, 10, and Kamila, 11) lost everything.

“I did so much, my family, for us to live there, to earn money, nice place to live, work for kids. We lost in one day everything. I had really nice job that I love, nail technician, but I really love my job. I feel that I need to start again from zero.”

From left, Valeriia Starkova with her daughter Kamila, mother Iryna, father Mykola and grandmother Halyna. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651015)
From left, Valeriia Starkova with her daughter Kamila, mother Iryna, father Mykola and grandmother Halyna. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651015)

Asked about those who are helping the family, she said: “I feel that they’re saving our lives, otherwise I don’t know where we would stay because it’s quite expensive, and OK, we could for couple of weeks, but we need to live every day and we need to find a job first.

“I’m so grateful for everyone who supports us and can give us some place to live. I really appreciate it.”

Iryna Starkova and her family look around one of the bedrooms in their new home in Caldecote. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651020)
Iryna Starkova and her family look around one of the bedrooms in their new home in Caldecote. Picture: Joe Giddens/ PA (55651020)

The family were reunited in Caldecote on Tuesday (March 22) and were shown around the house. They spent the night in a hotel while the property is furnished.

Mr Swinhoe said his two daughters, aged 11 and 15, are “really delighted” there are three children among the Ukrainian family and they will help to integrate them into school.

Read more

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