A Ukrainian woman who fled Kyiv on the day Russia invaded said she is “very excited” to be launching her own hairdressing business in south-east London.
Since February 27, Elena Lishchun has been staying with her daughter, Anna Walker, who has lived in the UK for seven years and helped find Ms Lishchun a place to work near her home in Greenwich.
Ms Lishchun, 56, has worked as a hairdresser her “whole life” in Ukraine and said she feels “lucky” to be able to rent a chair at Headcase Barbers in Greenwich Creekside.
“My whole life I’ve been working as a hairdresser, I love my work and that’s the only thing I’ve ever considered doing,” Ms Lishchun told the PA news agency.
“I haven’t seen any negative sides of me moving here, everyone’s been welcoming and supportive and sharing their support.
“I’m just very determined and focused to find work because I’m used to work… I’m very excited.”
Ms Lishchun, originally from Donetsk, Ukraine, had been living in Kyiv for three and a half years prior to the Russian invasion.
Her daughter, who works in HR and has a child with her British husband, was originally able to house Ms Lishchun through a visitor’s visa, which they have now switched to a visa under the Ukraine Family Scheme.
“She never wanted to do anything else, she finds a lot of pleasure in (hairdressing),” Ms Walker, 33, told PA.
“We started to look at where she could rent a chair and set up her own client base and her own business, as opposed to being employed by a salon because mainly because of her language issues.
“Luckily, we were able to find a place that would rent out a chair where she can continue working.”
Ms Walker said they found a salon managed by a Ukrainian man who is willing to offer a chair to Ms Lishchun.
Her mother will be starting English classes to help grow her clientele as local people have offered courses for free.
“The biggest gap is the English and the understanding of English – that’s the only problem I see but I’m going to start classes … I never thought I would need English in my life at this level,” Ms Lishchun said.
“There are local people who offer courses for Ukrainian refugees for free here in Greenwich and the community has been extremely supportive with everything,” Ms Walker added.
Ms Lishchun said she has left behind family, friends, and a one-year-old apartment in Kyiv.
She plans to return to Ukraine as soon as possible and still wanted to work the morning Russia invaded on February 24.
“I actually woke her up in the night because she was sleeping like really tightly and she couldn’t hear that the war had started,” Ms Walker explained.
“We called her and we said, ‘Get your things ready, you need to get on the move because the war has started’.
“And she said, ‘I need to wake up at seven to go to work. It’s a very busy day for me today.’”
Ms Lishchun already has a few bookings with friends and family, but added that many Ukrainians coming to the UK might not be so lucky finding work.
“I’m lucky, but other people might not be as lucky,” she said.
“It will be more difficult for them to settle in.
“The situation will be different for people who have families here and people who are coming on the Homes for Ukraine scheme.”
Ms Walker added she has found it “really, really comforting” for her mother to have access to medication and a GP here in the UK.
“The most important point for me was that she was safe,” she said.
“But obviously once she was here, we welcomed a lot that she’s able to stay here, she’s able to work here, she’s able to get the NHS support as well.
“We have a little bit more of a positive outlook on the future.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.