Ukrainians celebrating their first Christmases in the UK have been busy writing letters to Santa Claus and planning out traditional dishes they plan to make on the big day, amid hopes for peace and being reunited with their loved ones back home in 2023.
Despite usually celebrating Christmas on January 7 – as determined by the Orthodox Church – Kateryna Chebizhak, 34, who works as a telephone interpreter, and her seven-year-old son Kolya, are planning on spending December 25 with friends who live near them in Enfield, North London.
“We have friends here that live just next door and we will meet to celebrate”, Ms Chebizhak told the PA news agency. I have some presents for Kolya and we will have a nice walk, we might do some arts and crafts and play Uno.”
The pair came to the UK in April after fleeing Kyiv, following short stays in Poland and Germany. She added that when she told her son that in the UK children usually receive Christmas presents on December 25, he began making a list.
“Usually in Ukraine, we just get presents under the Christmas Tree in the New Year, but [in the UK] it works differently”, she said. “Now’s he waiting for his two presents and he’s really excited."
This time of the year is also tainted with sadness since Ms Chebizhak would usually spend Christmas with her family back in Ukraine, of which the exact location details cannot be mentioned for safety reasons. “Usually we have traditions where my mum (Tetiana) will always make 12 dishes which symbolise the 12 months of the year and we would make a wish on Christmas Eve and go to bed and it should come true”, she said.
Ms Chebizhak added that her parents are okay, but that her mother did not put up a Christmas tree due to the ongoing war. “My sister Anna also used to live not too far from them and she also left to go to Greece with her two children, so they are alone and she doesn’t have any grandchildren nearby”, she added.
“My mum and dad might sit down together and watch some movies or listen to the national anthem of Ukraine and we’ll have a call, but they are coping and doing great despite it not being a good situation.”
As the pair look forward to 2023, Ms Chebizhak said she “dreams of peace in our country”, adding “we really hope the war’s over and we can return to see Kolya’s dad as he misses him very much and is still in the Vinnytska region in Ukraine.
Ms Chebizhak also has plans to do an interpretation and translation course to fulfil her dream of becoming a fully qualified interpreter, thanks to public donations made through a crowdfunder set up by platform Beam, which is supporting Ukrainian refugees into jobs and homes. “We are so thankful for all the kindness and support, which means I moved into my own place in November and can do my interpretation course next year”, she said.
“Kolya is also looking forward to continuing with school and his football classes. We’re just trying to live a normal life.”
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