How Ukrainian refugees will spend Christmas in the UK – and remember those left behind | UK News

Ukrainians celebrating their first Christmas in the UK are writing letters to Santa Claus and planning traditional meals – but their thoughts are also with loved ones still inside the devastated country.

Kateryna Chebizhak, 34, works as a telephone interpreter, and she arrived from Kyiv with her seven-year-old son Kolya in April, via Poland and Germany.

She said Christmas in Ukraine is on 7 January, as determined by the Orthodox Church, but her son is looking forward to getting his presents a bit earlier this year.

“Usually in Ukraine, we just get presents under the Christmas Tree in the New Year, but [in the UK] it works differently”, she said.

“Now’s he’s waiting for his two presents, and he’s really excited.

“As it is the school holidays, he has been writing letters to Santa Claus.”

The pair will spend the day with friends in Enfield, north London, exchanging presents, going for a walk, doing art and craft activities and playing a card game.

Ms Chebizhak said her parents remain in Ukraine, adding: “Usually we have traditions where my mum (Tetiana) will always make 12 dishes which symbolise the 12 months of the year, and we would make a wish on Christmas Eve and go to bed, and it should come true.

“My sister Anna also used to live not too far from them, and she also left to go to Greece with her two children, so they are alone, and she doesn’t have any grandchildren nearby,” she added.

“My mum and dad might sit down together and watch some movies or listen to the national anthem of Ukraine, and we’ll have a call, but they are coping and doing great, despite it not being a good situation.”

Ms Chebizhak said she dreams of peace in Ukraine and hopes to return to see Kolya’s father “as he misses him very much”.

Meanwhile, she is concentrating on her dream of becoming a fully-qualified interpreter, thanks to donations made through a crowdfunder set up by platform Beam.

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Back row from left to right - Vasyl, Olha and Taras (front row left to right) Anna, Volodymyr and Mia. Olha Komarnytska who lives in Birmingham with her children, Mia, 15, and Volodymyr, 13, are set to experience their first Christmas in the UK, despite usually celebrating Christmas on January 7, as determined by the Orthodox Church, alongside their host family.
Olha – in the middle of the back row – with her children, Volodymyr and Mia in front. They are pictured with other family members

‘We will always remember the help of UK’

Olha Komarnytska lives in Birmingham with her children – Mia, 15, and Volodymyr, 13 – having arrived from western Ukraine in May.

“We usually celebrate Christmas in January, but I think a lot of Ukrainians will celebrate Christmas in December this year because Russians celebrate Christmas in January, and it’s not very good for us because we are fighting with Russia,” the 42-year-old cleaner said.

She said they would go to church together on 25 December before sitting down to a Christmas dinner with a combination of British and Ukrainian dishes.

“I plan to make cabbage with rice, meat carrot and onions and a Ukrainian salad with potato, carrot, meat, onions and cucumber,” she added.

But several people will not be with them – Mrs Komarnytska’s husband, parents and two brothers are still in Ukraine.

“It’s not good, we are not happy – but the situation is very bad because of the war happening in Ukraine and there is a bad situation with electricity where many don’t have any,” she said.

“I think next Christmas we will celebrate in Ukraine, but we will always remember how lovely and helpful those in the UK have been to Ukrainians.”