The horror of war: Ukrainan mother-of-two talks about fleeing her homeland

Jonathan and Rebecca with Nataliya (left) and Nina and the children.

Jonathan and Rebecca with Nataliya (left) and Nina and the children. - Credit: HUNTS POST

A Ukrainian family who fled from Kyiv are staying with Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly under the Homes for Ukraine scheme set up by the Government.

Mr Djanogly and his wife Rebecca invited former Ukrainian MP Nataliya Katser, her 62-year-old mother Nina, and sons aged five and seven, to stay with them. The children have now secured places at a local school and are settling down after the trauma of recent weeks.

Nataliya's father and husband are still in Ukraine. Under martial law, males aged from 18 to 60 are prevented from leaving. She is in contact with them but fears for their safety. Her husband, a lawyer for an accountancy firm, and her father, are carrying out humanitarian and civil defence work.

The UN estimates there are 11 million displaced people and five million of those displaced people are children . 

Nataliya met Mr Djanogly when she visited Parliament six years ago. They stayed in touch and when he discovered she had fled with the children, he invited her to stay with him.

Nataliya tells a heartbreaking story of fleeing her homeland. She, like many others, believed initially they would be able to remain.

"I didn't want to accept the reality," she explains.

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"Friends were telling me to leave but I couldn't picture the danger. I think we just got used to the headlines and the dramatic noises and I didn't imagine there could be full-scale war."

When she made the decision to leave, she believed it would be for a few days and packed one small bag. 

"As we drove, there were so many people on the roads and queues everywhere. We could see and hear the airstrikes, but I didn't imagine the Russians would attack civilians, I still thought these were military targets."

Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly with the family who fled the Ukraine.

Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly with the family who fled the Ukraine. - Credit: HUNTS POST

Nataliya faced heightened danger as the Russians were rounding up politicians and local dignitaries. As a former Ukrainian politician she is on a list of sanctioned individuals, so apart from all the practical considerations, the bombs dropping around them and worrying she would run out of fuel, she knew if she got caught, she faced arrest and being taken prisoner.

Her children were terrified, upset at leaving their father and grandfather and also the family's cat.

In the end, she drove 500 km in four days. There were jet strikes in the air above them and the family slept in the car. She eventually ended up in Budapest and then Vienna, where she received the call from Mr Djanogly. At this point, Nataliya says she couldn't speak and was "struck dumb with shock" and the boys were too frightened to leave the hotel room.

During the interview, she pulled up some video footage on her phone showing the horror of the war. Bombs dropping and explosions. She was too afraid to pass the images on, sent to her by a friend, in case it revealed his whereabouts. The noise was truly terrifying. She says if pictures of near misses are released in the media, she fears the Russians will make sure the next one hits the target.

Asked about people returning to their homeland, Mr Djanogly said: "It is going to take a long time. As the Russians withdraw they are leaving munitions, booby traps and mines. There are no schools, no infrastructure and no sanitation. Russia has blown a quarter of the bridges."

Nataliya says: "I think it will take at lease a one year to clear the country of the bombs and mines. 400 schools have been destroyed by bombs."

On the criticism of the various schemes and delays, Mr Djanogly said: "People are having different experiences and we acknowledge there have been frustrations and delays but the Government is  allocating a lot of resources and people to this now."

Speaking of Ukrainan people in the UK, he added: "These are not people who want to settle in the UK, they are people who want to go home, they want the fighting to stop so that they can live in peace and freedom."

Nataliya said: "I am lucky, I left with one bag, thinking I would go home in a few days, and I have been invited into someone's home and the children are safe. I have friends who I know are dead and others who are missing. I think we just want the world to know the truth of what has happened here."