Ukrainian mum thought she was being scammed because life in the UK is ‘too good to be true’

Liliya Onopa, a mother of six, managed to flee Ukraine after the Russian invasion and made it all the way to Chepstow in Wales – and she can’t believe her luck

Sergio Onopa, Russian Onopa, Liliya Onopa, Nikolai Onopa, Oleg Onopa and Dimitri Onopa (LR)

A mother fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine thought she was being scammed because her new life in the UK is ‘too good to be true’.

Liliya Onopa now lives in a bungalow built for her by a small community in Chepstow, Wales.

Her three youngest children all attend nearby St. Mary’s RC Primary School, where she narrated Wales Onlinethey have settled in well.

Liliya, speaking through a translator while learning English, couldn’t believe the plush furnishings of her new home.

“There are even scissors for manicures,” Liliya told WalesOnline. The community has worked tirelessly to ensure that the home meets the standards required to house Liliya and her cubs.

In the bungalow a stone’s throw from St. Mary’s School


WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

She said: “There were even slippers for all of us. It’s those little things.

“When we came here for the first night there was a hot meal for the kids.”

Her translator, Julia Dubin, said: “She kept asking, ‘Why? Is it a scam? I don’t understand why people do so much for us.’ But I keep telling her it’s different here.

“People here want to help each other and they really want to help her. I tell her there doesn’t have to be a ‘why’.”

The children are happy in their new school


WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Liliya lost her four-year-old daughter, Liza, in a fire at her home in Marivka, in the center of the country.

Liliya had already lost 13-year-old daughter Vladochka. As Russian forces approached, she said that despite the hostility she might face, she felt she had to take the risk of fleeing the country.

She took to Facebook to track down the makers of the Chepstow refugee bungalow after seeing stories online of their efforts.

And so she met the organizers of the project and the principals of the school, Phil Cotterell and Francis Tindall. As soon as she spoke to Phil, she said she knew she had to try to get to Chepstow.

The family is received by the school


WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

“We knew how dangerous the journey was going to be,” she said.

“Russian aggressors bombed every route because they knew people were trying to flee. We had planned to go via Odessa but the route there was so devastated it was too much. We then planned to drive via Lemberg, but then that was the goal.

“A lot of people came to us and offered transport, but then said they didn’t want it anymore because it was too dangerous. Many sprouted like mushrooms and tried to loot as much money as possible.

“Eventually we got to Bucharest and wrote Phil and Louise (Pavia – another organiser) every 20 minutes to tell them we were safe. Explosions were going off all around us in Ukraine.

Chair of School Governors, Phil Cotterell, with Acting Principal, Rosie Cerqua


WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

“My kids are so scared that when we went to a band this week and there was a fireworks show, they ran away and panicked it was going to happen again.”

Liliya explained that life wasn’t always like this for her and her family.

“Before the war started, we lived peacefully in our village. People in Ukraine are peaceful people and we also lived well among Russians and Armenians.

“I speak fluent Russian and have never had any problems there until now. We built our lives, we had a beautiful garden, my son went to dental school. We were happy.

“Now I’m talking to my friends there and they’re fighting in Mariupol. People inside [Russian] Occupied territories have no access to clean water, food or medicine.

“The war is raging just 20 km from my village. A boy in my village, just 23, was buried this week for fighting Russian forces. They are afraid every day that Russia will announce war on neighboring countries in order to support Ukraine as well.”

On Friday, Liliya and her boys walked through the school gates, cheered on by students from the school, who performed an honor guard to officially welcome them.

Principal Rosie Cerqua said the children have been “like little celebrities” since they arrived.

After Liliya was officially presented with the keys to her new home, she reached out to the community that brought her there.

The family is so happy with their new life


WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

“I was afraid, but not as such afraid for my life, but for the lives of my children,” she said.

“I am so grateful to every single person who made this all possible and for getting us safely from our home to Chepstow. We had issues with our visas which have been resolved and we are so grateful that we can now feel safe again.

“When I first saw the school my children would be going to and when I attended the Saturday service at church, everything hit me and I felt so overwhelmed. I have no words to describe how I feel and how grateful I am. I am so overwhelmed that thanks to you all we can finally feel safe again in this beautiful community.”

Details of the family’s difficulties with the UK visa system and delays can be found here here.

A lot of people like Phil are sponsors have complained that the system is too slow and unnecessary obstacles cause significant delays.

As of May 17, 107,400 Ukrainian visas have been issued out of 128,100 applications. Of the 6.3 million refugees who have left Ukraine, more than three million are in Poland, while Romania has taken in almost a million and Hungary more than 600,000. Germany said it had taken in more than 700,000 Ukrainian refugees as of May 14.

Phil said bringing Liliya to Chepstow was a challenge, “with a lot of twists and turns along the way.”

He added, “But this trip has seen incredible kindness and generosity from so many.” Ukrainian mum thought she was being scammed because life in the UK is 'too good to be true'

Fry Electronics Team

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