Ukrainian refugees start at top UK private school as dad fights Putin’s army


Exclusives:

Timofii Ivzhenko, 16, and his brother Sierafim, 13, started at Beechwood School in Tunbridge Wells, after fleeing the war in Ukraine where their dad is fighting in the army

Ukrainian brothers Sierafim Ivzhenko, 13, and Timofii, 16, have started school in the UK

Two Ukrainian boys whose dad is fighting Russian forces have started class at a top UK private school after fleeing the war.

Timofii Ivzhenko, 16, and his brother Sierafim, 13, spent four days racing to get out of Ukraine as Vladimir Putin’s forces started bombarding the country’s cities, killing tens of thousands of soldiers and citizens.

They arrived in the UK at the end of March and spent several days sleeping and recovering from the traumatic escape.

On Wednesday, thanks to the help of a Ukrainian family member in the UK and British volunteers, they’ve joined other 16 and 13-year-olds in class at Beechwood School in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

Timofii, who is a national junior MMA champion in Ukraine, spoke to the Mirror ahead of his first day while kitted out in uniform donated by the school.







Tetiana, Timofii and Sierafim with their hosts Jill and David
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Image:

Tim Merry)

“It is my first day in school. I have been looking forward to this day for such a long time and I am so happy I can learn at Beechwood,” he said.

“My first impressions of this school is great. They are lovely and kind people. The headmasters and teachers are very good. I really like it and I’m so excited that I have an opportunity to learn at this school.”

Along with their mum Tetiana, 42, Timofii and Sierafim were driven for three and a half days from Sumy in the east of Ukraine to Lviv on the Polish border in the days before the war broke out.

With the shadow of conflict looming over them, the boys had to bid farewell to their dad and Tetiana’s husband Alexander, a veteran who is now fighting to repel the Russians.

Their decision to leave earlier than many others proved a good one, as Sumy came under intense attack on the first day of the war, leading to heavy fighting in the streets.

After a quick shower in a makeshift refugee shelter in Lviv, mum and sons boarded a bus to Warsaw where they stayed with friends.

As they tried to settle into life in the Polish capital, distant family member Maryna Cole – who first came to the UK to study – was trying to sort out visas to get them into the country.







They started at Beechwood School on Wednesday
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Maryna Cole)







Timofii and Sierafim’s fees have been waived
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Maryna Cole)

A month later she’d been successful and the family was brought to the well-heeled Kent town, where Councilor David Scott welcomed them into his home.

David told the Mirror: “I think we’re continuing a fantastic tradition we’ve had in Tunbridge Wells over the last century of supporting refugees, whether Belgians in the First World War, Jews, Syrians, various nationalities at different point in time.

“It’s about people supporting individuals.”

When the family arrived they were completely exhausted.

“The boys slept for three days,” Maryna said.

“They didn’t come out of their rooms and they became ill with sore throats. They were under pressure for so long, then they got to safety and their systems shut down.







Alexander stayed in Ukraine to fight the Russians
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Image:

Tim Merry)







The family during more peaceful times in Ukraine
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Tim Merry)

“They just needed to feel safe and sleep properly. After a week they came out of their rooms and started to do things.”

On Easter Sunday they were treated to a traditional roast dinner with Tracey Stanbury and her family, who will be housing them on a longer term basis.

As welcome and helpful as those who’ve encountered the family have been, there have been administrative issues with getting them properly settled.

Because they came into the country via the earlier family scheme, rather than the Homes for Ukraine visa route, their hosts are not entitled to any financial support to pay for essentials such as food and heating.







Beechwood staff welcome the boys
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Image:

Maryna Cole)







The boys have found a home in Tunbridge Wells, Kent
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Tim Merry)

Maryna has attempted to have the Ivzhenkos switched to the other scheme, only to be told by a Home Office helpline operative that they’d have to return to Poland to reapply for the correct visa.

In the meantime Tetiana, an accountant in Ukraine, is supporting the family by working as a cleaner at a well-regarded local Turkish restaurant Zorba.

The boys received a huge boost when they heard they had a place at Beechwood, where headteacher Justin Foster-Gandey effectively waived fees that stretch up to £18,000 a year for day pupils.

“My daughter Angelina goes to Beechwood and her fee will cover the boys’ as well,” Maryna explained.

“It is a nice school with a friendly culture. They invited the boys to the second hand uniform shop and got that free of charge.”

Timofii is excited about starting at the school while Sierafim, who speaks limited English like his mum, is more nervous.

Maryna continued: “He is a little bit overwhelmed. There were some tears and he said he wanted to go back home, but he is a talented boy.







David and Jill opened their home up to the family
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Image:

Tim Merry)

“The text books will be a bit simplified. They will find a program for him. There is an older Russian boy who has been asked to help.”

While the welcome to the country they’ve received has been warm and they are now safe, there is one clear, enormous absence in their life – Alexander, who remains in Ukraine, fighting to liberate the country.

“Their dad calls but I’m not sure how often,” Maryna explained.

“The connection is very limited and they can’t ask too many questions.”

How long the family will remain separated, and how many more days the boys will spend with their new classmates, remains very unclear.

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www.mirror.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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