“There were missiles and rockets damaging buildings. Every day the drones attacked. Our city is right on the frontline.” So reflects Karina Zaiats on the troubles in her home country, which she and her family have fled to seek sanctuary in the UK, and County Durham in particular.

And as the world prepares to mark Ukraine’s Independence Day tomorrow, Karina and her husband Ihor have spoken of their gratitude for the warm welcome they have been shown since arriving in the UK. They have also thanked Durham County Council for its support, in particular its Employability Durham service which has helped both find work.

Up until February of 2022, Karina, Ihor and their ten-year-old daughter Oryna lived in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia.

However, on the 24th of that month, their lives, like tens of millions of other Ukrainians, were turned upside down when Russia invaded.

It was a terrifying period for the young family. So, like so many others from their homeland, when overseas nations offered to open their doors to Ukrainians seeking safety abroad, the Zaiats’ minds were made up.

The Homes for Ukraine scheme was launched in this country, through which people from their country were able to make links with people in the UK.

The Zaiats family had a friend living in the North East, who spoke glowingly about the UK.

And so when they had the chance to ‘match’ with a sponsor with a property for them in Easington Colliery, they jumped at it.

The Zaiats family arrived in January of this year and moved into temporary accommodation provided by the council, while Ihor, an engineer by trade, worked with the sponsor to get their new home ready.

And eventually, they were able to move into the property in Easington Colliery, much to their delight.

The family was shown a warm welcome by neighbours who donated pillows and other items, while Oryna settled into a local school.

And Karina and Ihor have received extensive support from the council, in particular Employability Durham, as they have sought to make their own way in their new surroundings.

Ukraine's Independence Day Illuminates Durham: Stories of Resilience and Support
Ihor, Oryna and Karina

The authority arranged for them to attend English for Speakers of Other Languages classes.

Employability Durham provided them with support as they looked for work including creating CVs and uploading these to job sites, and provided basic clothing and help with preparing for interviews.

This support has proved crucial in the couple landing jobs at Bristol Laboratories in Peterlee. Employability Durham also helped Ihor secure a bike to allow him to get to early shifts, via the Wheels 2 Work scheme.

She said: “We are very very grateful to all of the people from the UK for their massive support to Ukraine where it is a very difficult time for our country.

“We appreciate all of the support, especially from County Durham and Durham County Council, and also all of the support from the sponsors and lovely people who live in this country.”

The family yearns for the day it can return to Ukraine but only when the war is over and it is safe to do so.

Tomorrow promises to be a poignant day for the Zaiats family. Ukrainians around the world will be marking their nation’s Independence Day – the day the country separated from the Soviet Union, in 1991.

Karina said: “We all miss the Ukraine very much. When I see the Ukraine flag it reminds me of my native country.”

In County Durham, Ukraine’s Independence Day is being marked by the illumination of its best-known landmark. Durham Cathedral will be lit in yellow and blue, through its council-controlled lighting programme, today and tomorrow evenings. The flag of Ukraine also continues to fly at the council’s County Hall home in Durham.

Cllr Alan Shield, the council’s Cabinet member for equality and inclusion, said: “We look forward in joining people from around the world tomorrow in marking Ukraine’s Independence Day.

“The day gives people all over the globe the chance to stand with Ukraine and show complete solidarity with Ukrainian people as the war continues, and we are pleased to be lighting Durham Cathedral as a commemorative gesture of our continuing support.

“As a council with assistance and support from many host families and supportive stakeholders who have collectively contributed so much, we have been able to help more than 600 Ukrainians make new lives in County Durham. We are pleased to have been able to help so many people including Karina, Ihor and Oryna to settle into life here.

“We sincerely hope for an end to the war as soon as possible but Ukrainians can be assured of our ongoing support until that happens and beyond.”

Employability Durham offers a wide range of support. It can help anyone who is 18 and over and facing problems or worries about moving back into work, education or training. Through Durham Advance, the team also offers job support to anyone with a health condition, disability, or aged over 50. Employability Durham can support any County Durham resident who is looking for work

The team is able to offer one-to-one appointments by phone, video calls or in face-to-face meetings.

For more information about the support it provides, contact Employability Durham by phone 03000 262009, email [email protected] or go online at www.durham.gov.uk/employability and @EmployabilityDurham on Facebook and Instagram.

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