Driffield News

‘My soul is still in Ukraine, but my body is in Driffield’

Ukrainian refugee Lillia Malona said she had a ‘pinch me’ moment when she finally arrived in England and met Driffield couple Tony and Sabrina Edge.

Lillia and her husband Vitali and their daughters Victoria, 14, and Ilona, six, touched down on English soil on Saturday 16th April after six weeks of being in contact with the Edge family.

Tony and Sabrina initially privately sponsored the Malonas in an attempt to bring them to safety after they fled their home in the southern Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia shortly after Russian troops invaded.

“I like everything about Driffield. I like the people, the fact that the streets are so clean and the style of buildings which you have here.

Lillia Malona

Having alerted the national and local press to their story, Tony and Sabrina used the Homes for Ukraine scheme launched by the Home Office to help bring Lillia and her family over.

Following weeks of sitting and waiting, their UK visas were finally granted and they flew from the Moldovian capital of Chisinau, having found relative sanctuary with Lillia’s family over 200-kilometres north in Otaci on the Ukrainian border.

On landing at Luton Airport and seeing Tony and Sabrina in person for the first time, Lillia said: “It was like a dream, we had to pinch each other to make sure it was real.

“We were waiting a long time for our visas and we couldn’t wait for this moment. It was unbelievable when it actually happened. It was like a miracle.

“My soul is still in Ukraine, but my body is in Driffield and I still can’t believe we are here.”

Lillia, Vitali, Victoria and Ilona are living with Tony and Sabrina, as well as their three daughters, at their home on Lockwood Street.

The Malona family has been shown around the Capital of the Wolds and the surrounding area and Lillia said that they have been made to feel most welcome.

“I like everything about Driffield,” she enthused. “I like the people, the fact that the streets are so clean and the style of buildings which you have here.

“The people are so friendly and open hearted and have been very welcoming.

“People in Driffield have a very good sense of humour and Tony is always telling jokes.

“Lots have said that they have recognised us from the newspaper and on television and one woman whispered ‘good luck’ to us when she walked by.

“Sabrina sent me lots of photos of Driffield beforehand and I knew about English culture having been an English teacher and read a lot about London and English traditions.

“It is very different from Ukraine where there is a big and obvious difference between the rich and the poor, but you don’t get that feeling here.”

Having a good grasp of English has been a huge help to Lillia and her family, with many Ukrainians struggling to fill out necessary forms as a result.

“Being able to speak English has definitely helped me in our situation,” Lillia explained. “Many Ukrainians do not speak English and have found it difficult, even the thought of coming over because of that reason.

“I met another Ukrainian woman who is living in Langtoft with her son and she is homesick, but she doesn’t speak much English and is worried about the language barrier.

“Thankfully, Sabrina has been more than a friend to me, sorting out most of our paperwork. I’ve not had to do anything!”

Sabrina added that she was always confident that the Malona family would reach Driffield. She believes that her presence in the national press helped to push through the process.

“I was always confident and getting the press involved helped the situation as there was little government action for refugees before then,” Sabrina said.

“The week in which Lillia and her family’s visas were granted, we hadn’t spoken as much as normal as Tony and I had COVID and I wasn’t well.

“When we FaceTimed that week, Lillia looked sad and I was concerned she was thinking of staying as many others who have tried to flee Ukraine had been unsuccessful and given up.

“However, when we finally got confirmation, which I received via email, I tried to contact Lillia, but she was out and had no signal. I’d jumped out of bed in excitement and was desperate to tell her but couldn’t.”

Lillia added: “I was offline as I was out of my parents’ house where we were staying in Moldova. I came back to so many messages and just hoped it was good news.”

Once a rough date for the Ukrainians’ arrival was given, Sabrina arranged for a week off work and has helped them run errands to get them on their feet.

Vitali has managed to secure employment, which he started yesterday.

“From an article in the Wolds Weekly, Andy Newton of Florida Marquees knocked on my door and said he had a job for Vitali,” explained Sabrina.

“They had lost some employees due to Brexit and, having taken a look around, Vitali accepted the job and started yesterday.

“We made it known to Lillia and Vitali that they were under no pressure from Tony and I to work, however they wanted to be independent.

“Something such as a translator will be perfect for Lillia, either with the council or the police, especially with so many Ukrainians coming over now.

“My employers, Howdens Joinery, have been fantastic with the whole situation and even raised £500 to help us buy new furniture for Lillia and Vitali.”

As well as sampling what Driffield has to offer, Sabrina has taken the family to Hull and to the beach, whilst they also tasted what Pumphouse Brewery had to offer last week, much to Vitali’s delight.

“The beer in Ukraine is like water compared to here,” said Lillia, who added that she hopes that her family can join them in England soon.

“My father and brother’s business is almost dead as they supplied apples to Russia. I hope that they can come over to England too.”

Sabrina added: “There are likely to be other Ukrainians coming over to England, although I think some will be waiting to see how Lillia and Vitali get on before committing.

“Friends of Tony and I, both in Driffield and in London, are happy to welcome families over. These are people who the Malona family knows, so they can vouch for them.”

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