The stories of four Ukrainian mothers in Scotland
Last updated: 08/03/2023
This International Women’s Day, we spoke to four of the mothers who have been attending our weekly ‘UKRA’ support group for Ukrainian mothers in Edinburgh, run in partnership with LinkNet Mentoring.
In the last 12 months, 23,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war have arrived in Scotland in search of safety, the majority of whom have been women and children. Whilst some of the women were already parenting alone in Ukraine, most women have found themselves parenting alone for the very first time in their lives.
Thanks to funding from Save the Children, we are in the position to be able to support some of the mothers who have been resettled in Scotland.
The UKRA group is there to support Ukrainian mothers in Edinburgh by providing information on local services such as health centres and schools and to support them to settle into life in Scotland.
Larysa has been in Edinburgh for 6 months. She lives with a host family in Edinburgh with her 16 year old son. She comes from the western region of Ukraine and used to work full time as a ceramics engineer. Since living in Scotland, she has started working in a restaurant in Edinburgh and her son attends the local high school.
Mariia (not her real name) left Ukraine 9 months ago from the southern region of Ukraine. She is a single mum and lives on the Ukrainian refugee cruise ship in Leith with her 13 year old daughter. When she lived in the Ukraine, she worked as an engineer in the metal production industry. Her daughter attends the local high school in Edinburgh.
Nataliia came to Scotland from Bakhmut and lives on the Ukrainian refugee cruise ship in Leith with her two children.
Kateryna came to Edinburgh four months ago and lives in a flat in Edinburgh with her three children. Her husband did not join them because he is a doctor and wanted to help the soldiers in Ukraine. She speaks fluent English and we are very grateful to her for interpreting for the other parents who took part in this interview.
Do you still have family members in Ukraine? How do you stay in touch with them?
Larysa: My sister is there as well as my husband and my mum. I speak to them every day on the phone and on WhatsApp.
Mariia: My aunts and my uncle are still living there and my nephew – he was injured in the war. Every morning starts with a series of phone calls and messages to check if my family is ok.
Do you have a community of Ukrainians that you speak to in Edinburgh?
Larysa: yes, I go to the Ukrainian club here. There are also groups we can join, like this one, which are mainly for Ukrainian mums. It feels good to connect with people who have things in common with you and it can be a great source of support. Sometimes you just have a strong desire to listen to the Ukrainian language, and mutual support in times of difficulty is so important.
Mariia: My daughter and I are living on the ship docked in Leith where there are a lot of Ukrainians to talk to and spend time together with.
Larysa: Currently, the greatest trouble which unites all Ukrainian people is the war in Ukraine. There is an unspoken understanding amongst us Ukrainians.
The UKRA group helps me a lot in terms of being able to communicate in my own language, it’s an opportunity to meet my friends and spend time together. When I’m here, I feel calm and it gives me a break from worrying.
Mariia: When we first arrived, we didn’t really know how things worked here. We didn’t know anything about the health or education system, for example. The group has provided us with very useful information and advice to help us to navigate these different systems and I am really grateful to Indre, one of the leaders of our group at OPFS. She has really helped us a lot and we really appreciate that.
Larysa: Yes, and through the group we have also had the opportunity to go on excursions. These have also included our children and we can suggest places we’d like to visit too. It has helped us to get to know the area. We recently visited Dynamic Earth together.
Natalia: I’ve certainly benefited a lot by visiting UKRA group.
The UKRA group gives me an opportunity to relax and forget about all the challenges and to feel much better. We’ve had art therapy, we have learned Scottish dancing and we visited the Scottish Portrait gallery. It supports me with my mental health and helps me to deal with stress. I really want to thank Indre and Kalina for their help. Girls, you’re awesome!
How is it for you, living in Scotland and how do you feel about returning to your home country?
Mariia: In Scotland we are guests and in Ukraine we are at home. It’s a nice country to live in, and to spend time in. But this isn’t tourism. Most Ukrainians didn’t plan to flee their homeland to visit Scotland. It was a difficult decision to leave Ukraine to come here. My mind is always caught up with thoughts of my family in Ukraine and I feel homesick, but I know it’s not possible to return at the moment. My home town is very close to occupied territories and there are shellings and explosions 24 hours, seven days a week. So it isn’t safe to return.
Natalia: Looking out of the window of the train when my children and I were travelling to Edinburgh from London, I got the impression that Scotland has a lot in common with Ukraine. I mean the countryside, the fields, meadows, hills. Scottish sheep are amazing! In Ukraine you can mostly see cows and horses grazing in the pasture. The more I find out about the country, the more I admire it. Local residents are very friendly and polite, everyone smiles at you. People I have met are also so willing to support us. I was taken aback by the huge numbers of volunteers here.
I fell in love with Scotland and the Scottish people!
Larysa: When the war is over, I want to return to Ukraine to be with my family. I’d take any opportunity, the first opportunity just to be reunited with them.
Mariia: I do want to return, assuming I have a property to return to once the war is over. But of course we don’t know how things will be and whether my flat will still be there.
Mariia, what was life like as a single parent in Ukraine before the war?
Mariia: It was hard being a single mum in Ukraine. I only had myself to rely on in terms of financial support. It is hard financially for single parents in the Ukraine, particularly because when your child is passed being a toddler and you have to return to work, there is no financial support from the government.
It’s hard for me to say whether it’s any different being a single mum in Scotland because I don’t work here. I look after my daughter and am entitled to receive benefits whilst I am here. It’s enough to cover the basics.
Larysa, what has it been like for you parenting alone since you came to Scotland?
Larysa: Well, my husband is still in the Ukraine and it’s difficult for both of us because it’s been the first time we’ve ever been separated – it’s the first time we’ve lived apart from each other. You know, it’s a complicated issue for both of us.
The 8th March is International Women’s Day. Can you tell me a little bit about what this day means to you?
Mariia: We used to have public holidays in Ukraine, and International Women’s Day was one of these. But all public holidays in Ukraine have now been cancelled since the war began. The only days off we have are at weekends – Saturdays and Sundays.
Larysa: Yes, there are no public holidays now, but I hope the next public holiday we are given will be the day we celebrate our victory!
Mariia: International Women’s Day has always been a nice day to spend time with the family and we have a tradition where husbands and fathers congratulate the women in their families by presenting them with gifts and flowers. As the day coincides with the start of Spring, the flowers that are traditionally given are daffodils or tulips.
For me and my daughter, it’s a special day. It’s an opportunity to spend time together, to do something nice and out of the ordinary or to treat ourselves to something nice.
Nataliia: Last year we didn’t celebrate Women’s Day due the full-scale war started in my country. However, in peaceful times it was a day off. On the day before the holiday, boys congratulated girls at school and there was an afternoon tea with classmates. They played different games. Pupils would prepare a concert for their female teachers. At work, we had a party with different contests and surprises.
On the 8th of March, we celebrated Women’s Day in a family circle. Early in the morning my husband went to the flower shop where there was a long queue of men wanting to buy flowers for their beloved, nearest and dearest. It is a great challenge for a man to stay in s queue, you know!
So when my daughter and I woke up, my husband gave me and my daughter a bouquet of roses and tulips. We then visited our grannies and shared presents. My mother cooked a festive dinner, we sat at the table and enjoyed the delicious meal and heart talk. Now I really miss this!
What do you miss the most about Ukraine?
Larysa: we miss our families the most. I miss being in my apartment, sleeping in my own bed, just being with members of my family, sitting around the table having meals together.
Mariia: Yes, your family is the most valuable thing in your life.
Mariia: Ukraine is a large and beautiful country. We have everything. We have the Black Sea and the Azov mountains. The rivers, the lakes, the forests -everything. It is a country full of many resources. We look forward to the day when we can invite our new Scottish friends to visit us in our motherland, Ukraine. It is our families we miss the most.
Larysa: Scotland is a beautiful country. But it’s greatest treasure is its people. We were so pleasantly surprised to be offered such a warm welcome. People have been so helpful and supportive. It’s been such a positive experience for us.
Mariia: We want to have our victory and to live a peaceful world, to have peace not only in Ukraine, everywhere.
Nataliia: This international women’s day, my wish is for all women to be loved and to live in peace and in harmony. I also want to say that I really appreciate everything Scotland’s government does for Ukrainians. Thanks to all the organisations that support us in Edinburgh and warmest thanks to the Scottish people.