A Ukrainian Refugee in Putney

Alexandra Shkoda tells of her journey from Kharkiv to Festing Road

29-year-old Alexandra Shkoda
29-year-old Alexandra Shkoda


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Alexandra Shkoda is Ukrainian, 29, a successful gymnastic coach, and until three months ago, home and life was in Kharkiv on the Russian border. As the world knows even with the Russians in retreat there is now little normal life in that city. Today she is safe staying with author, Katie Campbell in Festing Road, West Putney .

When the invasion started on 24 February like many she and her husband Eugene, an IT Project manager, having been in a no war no peace situation since 2014, thought there would be a little sabre rattling. The Russians would attack one or two military installations and a deal would be done. They discussed leaving, just to be safe, at first they made sure their pet chinchillas were safe by taking them to her husband’s family in a village nearby. But soon they realised the death and destruction were not a temporary phase. Civilians were being deliberately attacked and killed. Living in a high rise apartment meant they felt especially vulnerable.

They decided to try and get to Alex’s family in the West, near Lviv on the Polish border. They were frightened as bombs and rockets were going off all over Ukraine. First they queued for two hours to get petrol for the car. Their first move out of town was abortive as the roads were blocked by traffic jams of people fleeing Kharkiv, which meant they had to turn back.

The one day journey to Lviv took four. While there they had to reassess. Life in the border town of Kharkiv, whatever happens, would be no longer viable. They were never going back. The loss of possessions, the apartment they had spent time and money doing up, the career hopes didn’t figure, life was more important.

Eugene had always dreamt of having a career in the UK, through the gymnastic network, Alex put out feelers, soon she was in touch with a UK coach who said there were opportunities . The coach also knew about Katy Campbell’s offer of hosting a refugee. Eugene although exempted from military service is not allowed to leave.

Facetime contact was made and interviews were had. Within eight days Alex had her visa and she arrived, a coach and plane ride later, on the May 3. “I am not happy, I look at the news every day, it’s scary. My husband and my family are in a village in the mountains so hopefully they are safe, but there is no safe place anywhere in the world.”

Alex now has a part time job teaching gymnastics in Putney, she has got used to the fact that the aeroplanes going over are not bombers, when she moved in she asked if they had an air raid shelter.

“Step by step I am trying to get a normal life, but maybe that’s never going to be possible.”

Hugh Thompson

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May 27, 2022

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