What you need to know about the life of Ukrainians in Scotland: the experience of refugees

What you need to know about the life of Ukrainians in Scotland: the experience of refugees


About 24,000 Ukrainians currently live in Scotland, most of whom came to the north of Great Britain after the start of the full-scale war.

A significant part is under the super sponsorship program, which was developed by the Scottish government in the spring of 2022 especially for Ukrainians. The rest – with the help of sponsor and family visas. All Ukrainians sheltered by Scotland were issued residence permits for a period of 3 years.

As part of the super sponsorship program, the government for the first time provided Ukrainian refugees with accommodation in 3-4 star hotels (with three meals a day, and later two meals a day), access to medicine, education and work. Moreover, Ukrainian youth were given a unique opportunity to study at Scottish universities for free. To make it clear, only Scots have this opportunity.

Ukrainians told “UP. Life” about their path of adaptation in amazingly beautiful Scotland.

Studying in Scotland

If other UK nationals (English, Welsh or Northern Irish) enroll in local universities, they pay tuition fees.

Students from other countries also pay for tuition, and at a much higher rate. For example, at the University of Glasgow, fees for some specialties are 12,000 pounds (about 600,000 hryvnias) per year for international students, 1,200 pounds for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and free for local students.

Ukrainians were equated with locals, and in the summer of 2022 and 2023, hundreds of Ukrainian students entered Scottish universities in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.

Also, many Ukrainians went to study in college, where English is taught for free as part of the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program. Those of them who do not receive financial assistance from the state have a scholarship in colleges (about 500 pounds per month, which is equal to 25 thousand UAH), and some even 700-800 pounds (the colleges partially cover their rent).

From the beginning, the Ukrainians received a very warm welcome from the Scots. Our compatriots were moved from hotels to social housing – apartments with repairs and furniture, washing machines, and even dishes and bedding. This was done by local councils.

However, some Ukrainians abused staying in hotels, refusing to move to apartments for imaginary reasons (they say, we are well fed in hotels), so over time the Scottish authorities were forced to tighten the requirements. In case of another refusal to move to an apartment, our compatriots were offered to look for housing on their own with their own money. Despite the fact that the rent of the apartment was paid by the state until the Ukrainians found a job.

The rejection rate immediately dropped to almost zero. Some Ukrainians left Scottish hotels to go home or to other countries, they were removed from the register (because the hotels were paid by the government from the local budget), but after two or three months they returned to the country of whiskey and mountains for “half-board”.

The most active returned to Scotland several times. During the first year of the war, they were again registered and housed in hotels. But later in Scotland, a rule was introduced to provide housing only to those Ukrainians who come to them for the first time.

Solo Way

Before the start of the full-scale war, Bozhena Yakymenko worked in Kyiv as a teacher (bandura, vocals). In May 2022, she went to the Netherlands, where she stayed for 5 months. She took part in 7 concerts. For this, Bozheni was given the use of a bandura, which was found in a collector’s possession. But the Dutch language had to be learned from scratch, and the Ukrainian knew English. That’s why she moved to Scotland in October.

Bozhena Yakymenko

Already in December 2022, she started working in a travel agency as a customer support manager. For the first time after moving to Great Britain, she lived on the liner “Ambition” in Glasgow, which the government of Scotland provided for temporary accommodation for Ukrainian refugees. She gave her first concert in Scotland there.

The woman also offered to join her compatriots who are interested in singing songs. There were more than a thousand Ukrainian refugees on the liner at that time, so there were a lot of willing ones. Subsequently, Ukrainians began to participate in charity concerts, talent shows, which contributed to the feeling of unity.

The choir was named Solo Way, which for Scots sounds like Solny shlyach, and for Ukrainians it is clear that the name draws inspiration from a bird. Bozhena explained to the Scots that we call our language nightingale, and the term “nightingale’s voice” is used to denote a particularly pure and pleasant song.

On the first and second anniversary of the full-scale war, Solo Way performed in front of Ukrainians during rallies in George Square – the main square of Glasgow. One of the most memorable moments was performing at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with professional and famous Scottish singers and bands.

The choir has already included Scottish songs in its repertoire. Among the creative plans of the choir leader is to organize a Solo Way solo concert in Glasgow and to perform in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, where the local Ukrainian choir “Oberig” and bandurist Maryna Krut have already done it. Bozhena also dreams that the choir will perform in London.

Solo Way Choir

Solo Way Choir

Now Yakymenko continues to work in a travel agency. Given that her head office is located in Brentford (a city in west London), the woman was allowed to work remotely. In the future, Bozhena wants to work in her specialty. But her Ukrainian education does not correspond to the British one, so for this she needs to complete courses.

During more than a year and a half of her stay in Scotland, Yakymenko did not meet a single Scot who supported Russia. She never had a problem when she said she was from Ukraine.

It was a pleasant surprise for the woman that Chicken Kyiv in Glasgow is very popular. In some restaurants, this is a special dish from the chef. It turned out that many Scots actually visited Ukraine during their vacations.

“Scots are generally very similar to Ukrainians, – believes Bozhena. – They love will and freedom, and their wonderful mountains and landscapes remind me very much of our Carpathians.”

At the same time, Yakymenko, who has had a foreign husband for a long time, is going to return to Ukraine after the end of the war.

“No matter how many languages ​​you know and how you communicate with people, nothing can replace your native home.” – summarizes Yakymenko somewhat nostalgically.

From Buchi to Glasgow

After February 24, 2022, the family of Victoria Kovtun had to go through considerable trials. They fled from Buchi to Borodyanka, survived 16 days of occupation there, having a problem with access to food (they processed old corn to make flour from it).

Then they left Borodyanka in their own cars through forests and fields, since “green corridors” did not exist at that time. The house in Buchi was completely destroyed by the occupiers. Victoria’s parents, who also lived in Buch, had an apartment in a high-rise building damaged.

During the occupation, the woman lost friends who were cynically killed by the occupiers. The neighbor was blindfolded, told to “go” and shot. Victoria herself was saved by a miracle. During the occupation, being without electricity, she remembered that there was a laptop in her husband’s car, which still had a charger. When they went to the car and the man opened the car, the alarm went off. The woman opened the trunk. They started shooting at her. The husband and father shouted “Lie down on the ground”, but Viktoria remained standing with a laptop near the car as if in a daze. Fortunately, the bullet missed her head.

Kovtun and his son arrived in Scotland in the summer of 2022. They lived in a hotel for two months, and then received a furnished apartment in the center of Glasgow from a non-governmental charitable organization that still supports her.

Victoria barely knew English, so she has been teaching it at the college for the second year. Focuses on improving her English skills for further job search (in Ukraine she worked as an SMM manager in a children’s store) and takes care of her son, who will soon be 11 years old.

The boy quickly adapted to the Scottish school and has already mastered the language. Helps Ukrainian mothers communicate with teachers. And, according to Victoria, he already had time to talk twice with the mayor of Glasgow at rallies in support of Ukraine.

Kovtun is not thinking about returning home at the moment. She admits that she still has nowhere to return to, because it is not clear when their house will be restored. The Ukrainian plans to learn English and become useful for Scotland, to which she is sincerely grateful for a very warm welcome.

The plan is to return to Ukraine with a Scottish boyfriend

Olena Zhukovska lives in Hurok, a small picturesque town surrounded by a bay and mountains. It can be reached in 50 minutes by train from Glasgow.

The Ukrainian woman came to Scotland from Shepetivka, Khmelnytskyi region. Her father has been at war since 2015. Best man too. My brother is a volunteer.

Olena Zhukovska

Olena Zhukovska

On the first day of the war, Elena and her cousin and nephew were taken to Poland. The Ukrainian woman worked there in a warehouse for 2.5 months, after which she came to Scotland on May 15, 2022. Her husband’s family, as well as her mother and grandmother, are still in Ukraine. Their house was hit.

Zhukovska has a diploma in philology and before the full-scale war worked in Ukraine as an English teacher. Knowing English helped her a lot in Great Britain.

In Scotland, she initially studied at West Scotland College, majoring in “Television and Radio Production”, and received additional journalism education. Her diploma project was about Ukraine — she decided to create a magazine about Ukrainian culture. Olena wanted to show what Ukraine is like, which foreigners often heard about mainly because of the war.

After graduating from college, the Ukrainian got a job. Spent three months looking for her. There were many stages of interviews. As a result, she got a job as an energy support mentor at a large company, The Wise Group. The contract began in October 2023.

Wise Group is a leading social enterprise that strives to lift people out of poverty and works with the most vulnerable sections of society. It is a charitable organization that receives grants, in particular from the state.

Zhukovska helps not only the British, but also Ukrainians who find it difficult to cover gas and electricity bills on their own. Elena likes that she can help people. The Ukrainian woman feels that she can help her compatriots even 3 thousand kilometers from home. More than 500 people work in the company, including 6 Ukrainians.

All her life, Elena had an internal alienation from the Russian language. She translated TV series and films into Ukrainian as a schoolgirl. She considered it her duty to increase Ukrainian content, of which there was not much on the Internet at that time.

Zhukovska regrets that attention was paid to her project only when a full-scale war came to Ukraine, because all these years many Ukrainians consumed Russian-language content and did not see it as a problem.

Olena started her own online project in Ukraine in 2012. At that time, she was fascinated by the culture of South Korea, so she translated Korean TV series.

In Scotland, Zhukovska found not only work, but also love. Her boyfriend is a Scotsman called Darren. Together, they build plans in which Ukraine occupies a large place.

“Together with Darren, we are going to return to Ukraine after the end of the war, – surprises Olena with her answer. – My boyfriend grew up in a patriotic Scottish family who do not believe Scotland will gain independence in their lifetime. So we are seriously considering moving to Ukraine for permanent residence.

We will remind that in 2014 a referendum was held in Scotland regarding its independence. They voted “for”. 44.7% the Scots They expressed a desire to remain part of Great Britain 55.3%. The turnout was 84.59%.

Maxim RozenkoChampion, for UP. Life


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