A Putney Cleaner From Ukraine Tells Her Story

Hard work and perseverance pays off for Masha and her family

Masha (centre) with her family
Masha (centre) with her family


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Hundreds of Eastern Europeans work in Putney as cleaners. Last week, long time resident and Vice President of the Putney Society, Hugh Thompson said goodbye after five years to Masha. Before she left they sat down and she told her story.

Masha came to London in June 2011. She had recently qualified as a radiology/ultra sound specialist and had borrowed £3000 from her sister who worked as a nurse in Rome. The money was needed to secure an appointment with a hospital. The money she earned at this placement was £80 a month, £50 a month was the cost of travelling to work. It was not a viable situation especially as she needed to pay her sister back.

Fortunately her husband had a large family which had emigrated to England fifteen years previously. It was felt that they would move to London and earn some money for three years while her placement was still open. They planned to use money earned in England to build a house in Ukraine.

Because of her family contacts work wasn’t difficult to find. Mainly at first as a nanny for a Russian family. Though there was some cleaning work. This over the years developed. Very soon Masha, a charming and optimistic person, was working 12 hours a day and earning £700 a week. Her husband at first found building work difficult but within a few years was working for himself and earning £800 a week.

As the family were all in Tooting that’s where Masha, her husband and son Sasha have always lived. They now rent a small house and are thinking of buying. The house in the Ukraine has long since been built.

With work plentiful, the money good and everything in place Masha found life so much better. The fact that everything worked, was clean, water didn’t turn off at 11, electricity had no blackouts and backhanders were unknown, made England something of a paradise.

Slowly but surely, especially as Sasha (now twelve and an Arsenal supporter) was starting to work through school, the will to return to Ukraine was fading. When she went home as Masha normally did twice a year she found everyone complaining about the lack of everything, jealous of her success and corruption totally rife. If you want a passport you wait two years, or pay £100 and get it tomorrow, when Masha took her mother to the doctor he didn’t look up until she has slipped the bribe across the desk. When in the Ukraine if Masha wanted a new phone she would have to save for many months, here she goes out and buys one.

Until now she hasn’t had time to think about the future, the day to day of earning , getting Sasha through school and family life have been all absorbing. Every week they go the Ukrainian church off Oxford Street and Sasha attends Ukrainian lessons. It isn’t all no play, the family has travelled over the UK and is especially fond of the Lleyn peninsula in North Wales.

The lockdown has given Masha time to think and she is going to start and evening course in sonography. Being the kind of person she is Brexit gave her no fears, ”if we have to go back to Ukraine ,so be it but life is better here especially for Sasha, no one has ever said anything but make me feel welcome.”

In order to keep up her earning Masha now employs someone to take and pick up Sasha from school.

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May 7, 2021

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