The road from Kyiv

No choice is minor. No road is accidental

Anna Azarova arrived in the UK two months after the invasion of her home country on February 24th, 2022. In the first of two articles, she reflects on her road in 2022.

Road as Respite

I was on my way to the Newstead Abbey, when I started creating this story in my mind’s eye. I have been in the UK since April, since leaving Kyiv in March. Though far from home, I am the Communications Lead at the British International School in Ukraine.

Absorbed in the soothing tranquillity of a woodland walk, I savoured a feast of autumnal splendour unveiling its intricate tapestry of royal gold, modest brass and bold copper with contrasting patches of lush emerald green.

The Abbey was a spectacular sight in its own right. An Augustinian priory converted to a family home, it is best known as the ancestral residence of Lord Byron. Apart from a vast parkland, the impressive estate boasts the lake teeming with birdlife, gardens adorned with Tudor-style hedge mazes and the beautiful mansion.

It was an ideal setting and season to look back on the past eight months and sum up my experience so far, while wandering about the place.

A road! If I were to describe this year in a single word only, that’s it – the ROAD. Travelling has always been an important part of my life, and still is. However, there is much more to it than that. This time it is about the road that chooses and leads you. To make it your good partner and guide, all you have to do is show your utter trust. That’s what I did on the 24th February, when Ukraine woke up to the dreadful sounds of deadly missile blasts…

Road as Hope

Was I panic-stricken on that black Thursday? When I heard a raucous roar of military aircraft flying over my house in Kyiv, for a split second I felt frozen with horror. To my surprise, it was not the fear of death. I remember it clearly – it was the fear of waking up in a ‘new’ totalitarian world where all the fundamental freedoms and human rights are suppressed.

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four immediately sprang to my mind. At that moment I realised how free and independent my nation and my soul were. Being a slave is much worse than being dead. It was not pompous, vulgar words taken from an old-fashioned novel. It was my reality. It was my inner choice.

When I made it, the fear immediately disappeared, giving way to resolution and composure and the road was wide open and clear for me.

Road as Family

I left my country in early March and relocated to the UK under the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme in late April, travelling through Slovakia, Poland, and Switzerland. I also had to visit Germany to reunite a teenage boy who travelled with me, with his mom and grandma as they had found a sanctuary in Baden-Baden.

The road led me to Martin and Janine, my amazing hosts, who are based in the picturesque, quiet village of East Leake, Nottinghamshire. Owing to their generosity and hospitality, I felt at home in no time. Sometimes, I would catch myself thinking that in some ways they reminded me of my dad and mom who departed this life a long time ago . . .

Actually, I felt at home everywhere in the UK. Wherever the road chose to take me further on, I would receive a very warm welcome and words of encouragement and support. It is rewarding to see formidable governmental buildings in big cities flaunting Ukrainian blue-and-yellow flags. But it is even more soul-touching to come across Ukrainian flags put on display in windows of private houses in small towns and remote villages.

Simultaneously, my understanding of the British rich, complicated culture, history, traditions and nature became more profound.

Road as Friendship

Once on the road, you can’t leave the track. On learning that I wanted to make a trip to Wales, some of the family members who live there came up with an accommodation plan – I was invited to visit Ruabon, first, and then, to go to Bangor and Anglesey. It turned out to be one of the most fantastic trips in my life!

I stayed with Andy and Cath at their wonderful Edwardian-style house near Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, but in August, train strikes occurred and I got stuck with no possibility of travel back to Nottinghamshire. Andy and Cath had to go to Northumberland, and as it was high season, all the accommodation options were sold out. However, a solution was quickly found.

Andy’s allotment neighbour, Jean, kindly put me up for a week until I was able to go back to Nottinghamshire. I was extremely moved to see her willingness to offer me – a complete stranger in the street! – a shelter. It was much more than ‘a roof over my head and bread on the table’. Andy, Cath, Jean and Jean’s friends, Janine and Martin, and my new British family, offered me their friendship, their help and their caring attitude.

With Jean’s guidance and advice, I learnt the history of the Menai Suspension Bridge, undertook trips to gorgeous Conwy and Caernarfon Castles and rambled around the fantastic Plas Cadnant hidden gardens packed with an infinite variety of exotic plants, flowering shrubs and trees. A visit to Beaumaris Gaol also left its solemn mark – this building is full of sad memories and secrets providing a fascinating insight into the world of the prisoner during the 1800s.

We shared many good moments together. Especially touching was Jean’s habit of feeding a one-legged, seagull every night. The seagull was shy, and not wanting to scare her I watched this ritual at a distance.

The day before my departure, Jean’s friend Keevan kindly offered to take me touring along the coastline. The breathtaking scenery of coastal marshes, craggy cliffs, long, sandy beaches, the tidal motion in the Irish sea and its energy, created a unique, atmospheric mood I will never forget.

The following day, with tears in our eyes, Jean and I said goodbye at Bangor railway station, no words could express my gratitude and appreciation I felt towards Wales.

Road as Learning

Some people say ‘a refugee is a badge of strength, courage, and victory’, some people say ‘a refugee is a survivor who can create a better future’. I am neither. The UK government, British people and my hosts help me feel anything but ‘a refugee’ in a conventional sense.

When attending the COBIS conference in early May, I remember COBIS Chair Colin Bell telling me, ‘you are among your friends, you can share your story with us’. That’s how I find it in the UK. I am a fully-fledged citizen able to play a constructive role in society. Thanks to this support and, of course, to indomitable Ukrainian defenders, I have had a six-month period of travelling across the country, getting a better understanding of its multilayered character, making new contacts, and even meeting my ‘old’ Ukrainian friends, colleagues or university mates out of the blue.

The Local Council prepared a nice gift for Ukrainians. I was presented with a free travel pass, which enabled me to discover gems in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire – Nottingham, Newark-on-Trent, Southwell, Elvaston Castle Country Park and many others.

Each town had something to tell me – a cathedral featuring fluid carvings of plants, animals and green men, or ruins of a castle that once played a significant role in the Civil War, or a museum paying tribute to the justice system. They reminded me of the turbulent, dark times of mankind’s history when resilience, character, perseverance, courage and faith had a pivotal significance.

Yes, I have had an eventful but serene six-month period, free from missile strikes and emergency sirens… I feel obliged to give something back. The best I can do is focus on my job, try to connect potential UK sponsors with Ukrainian families and help The British International School, Ukraine, continue to deliver lessons to children.

But that’s the next part of my road.

 

Anna Azarova was born in Kyiv and was educated at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and the London School of Journalism.

 

Thank you for your support.

Anna is the Communications Lead at BISU. 

 

 

FEATURE IMAGE – Snowdon, Wales by Maciej Ostasz from Pixabay

Support images kindly provided by Anna