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I told friends I'd play football, but war broke out

2023-06-04 19:25:39 [Press center6] source:Reuters

On 23 February 2022, Yároslav told his friends he would play football with them at school the next day.

It never happened.

In a few hours, the 13-year-old Ukrainian's simple plan became the impossible.

Overnight, Ukraine was invaded by Russia and now Yároslav has no idea when he will ever kick a ball with his friends again.

His school friends are scattered across the globe and he is living in one room in a Scottish hotel with his mother Oléna Bólotova.

The hotel has been their home for eight months.

Dad Oleksii is still at home in Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine, as are Oléna's parents.

Oléna told BBC Scotland everything changed overnight.

"No one expected that one morning they had to wake up, bring all they have in one small backpack and run away," she said.

"Kharkiv is 36km (22 miles) from the Russian border. The full invasion happened at 05:00 on 24 February 2022 and we had to flee to escape the war.

"We tried to settle in different regions of Ukraine - but it wasn't easy and there are no safe places in Ukraine right now - there are no schools, electricity problems, we were scared about winter.

"We were scared for the future and for our children so I took my child and crossed the border."

It is a story which almost 23,500 Ukrainians are living after coming to Scotland on the Scottish government's super sponsor scheme.

Some were housed on cruise ships, some in hotels and others were taken in by host families.

While the war rages on at home, Oléna believes the thousands of Ukrainian mothers who left the country to find safety are a different kind of soldier, fighting to keep their children safe.

"It was almost impossible to make the decision because all my life was in Ukraine," she said. "I had my husband, a family, a job, a house a dog, and a lot of plans for our future lives.

"We were adult people with strong ideas of our future and how to raise our child in Ukraine.

"War destroyed all plans and hopes for the future. When we needed to escape it wasn't easy for any Ukrainian families."

For those left behind life is difficult.

"People try to settle into living a new reality," said Oléna. "Living in bomb shelters and trying to live as normally as they can. Going to jobs.

"New children are born in Ukraine so Ukraine is alive, Ukraine is fighting - teachers trying to provide online teaching everywhere even when there is no electricity.

"My husband is in Ukraine - he cannot join us. We have been married almost 18 years and this is the first time in our life we separated.

"Men are trying to live a new reality without wives and children."

Now 13, Yároslav enjoys school in Glasgow and he has joined a football team. His English is improving despite his friends' strong accents.

He said it was painful to reflect.

"I remember on 23 February 2022 I told my friends we are going to play football tomorrow and go to school.

"And on 24 February at 05:00, I woke up and I wasn't thinking about school."

He said it was hard to keep in touch at first.

"They were in shelters with no internet. But then I call and text them and they are safe.

"Now my friends are in different parts of the world. Some in Poland, some in countries like Indonesia, I am shocked at which places. Some are still in Kharkiv in the very dangerous area."

He speaks to his dad every day. Oléna tries to speak to her parents every day but worries about them.

Her biggest hope is to see in the news that the war is over. But for now, they would like more permanent accommodation. Oléna is grateful she feels safe but she would like to cook her son a meal, do her own laundry and to have their own space.

A university lecturer and academic in Ukraine, Oléna has started a job at a city university doing admin.

"I am happy that I can bring something here and become a tax payer here. I feel like a real part of this Glasgow community," she added.

Until the mother and son can return to Ukraine, they say they will be brave - a word Oléna said was used a lot to describe Ukrainians.

"Not only for the soldiers who fight on the front line, but for every Ukrainian woman who takes her children and tries to look around the world for a safe place to raise them," she said.

"Brave for teachers and doctors who stay in Ukraine and help people. Brave for everyone who is Ukrainian.

"Ukraine is always inside of us. We are still Ukrainians and will be Ukrainians all our lives."

(editor-in-charge:Press center 1)

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