Young musician finds sanctuary and support
Anna, a talented young musician from central Ukraine, was immersed in her studies at the Kyiv Institute of Music when war broke out. She has been able to continue her education at the Royal Academy of Music, thanks to the help of her host and new “UK mother’, Margaret.
Refugees at Home host Margaret and her 19-year old Ukrainian guest Anna are sitting in the living room of a light-filled garden flat in Chiswick on an unusually warm and sunny February day. In the adjacent room is a vibraphone, a large percussion instrument on loan to Anna from a private music school in Surrey. Anna is a trained percussionist and was recently accepted into London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music (RAM). Attending RAM has been Anna’s dream since she was a young girl and discovered her natural talent as a musician. “Ironically, the war has made this dream now possible,” says Margaret.
Anna was immersed in her musical studies at the prestigious R. Glier Kyiv Institute of Music when Russia invaded Ukraine. Shortly after, her parents came to collect her and brought her home to Poltava, a small city in central Ukraine, 250 miles southeast of Kyiv. She describes the first month of the war as very difficult, although once she was able to re-start her studies over Zoom and play music she felt slightly more at ease.
During this time, Anna applied to the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) and was accepted. Unfortunately, she had to decline the offer as her family couldn’t afford the tuition fee.
Preparation meets opportunity
Despite the war Anna resumed her performance schedule, and the spring term took her to a music festival in Saudi Arabia, a concert in Paris to raise money for the Ukrainian army, and to an individual masterclass with a renowned percussionist in Vienna. On her return to Ukraine she learned about the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme – a new option which meant that if she was re-accepted to RAM she could be eligible for scholarships, loans, and grants.
While Anna waited to hear from RAM she started researching housing options for Ukrainian refugees in London and says she felt very impressed with Refugees at Home. In the autumn she was offered an audition at RAM and quickly headed to the UK. She was met at Luton Airport in mid-December 2022 by Margaret, her host and soon-to-be friend and “UK mum”.
Moved to act
Margaret is a retired BBC producer and reporter and a part-time ESOL tutor. She was incensed about the “illegal invasion” of Ukraine. She says, “Once the UK government introduced the Homes for Ukraine scheme, I couldn’t think of a single reason why I couldn’t do it… I have a room and this is one small thing that might help.” The government recommended three charities, one of which, Refugees at Home, Margaret liked the best. In August she received a call from R@H about Anna. “I was moved to help a young woman’s dream.”
“Once the UK government introduced the Homes for Ukraine scheme, I couldn’t think of a single reason why I couldn’t do it…
Since Anna’s arrived the duo have developed a close friendship. “It’s only been two months but I feel like I’ve known Margaret my entire life,” says Anna with tears in her eyes. Margaret also gets emotional as she recalls Anna’s mum asking that she take good care of Anna – “I gave you my daughter.” Margaret is thrilled to be Anna’s host and “UK mother” and finds it quite easy. She says, “Our personalities click. We do a lot of giggling and laugh at the same things.”
Sharing experiences and learning from each other
Anna and Margaret have quickly settled into a daily rhythm. Most days, Anna is busy practising, studying, and performing. Their R@H connections have opened many doors to the music world in London and Anna is seizing every opportunity. During the evenings, they cook and eat together. Anna’s mum has shared recipes for Ukrainian dishes including borscht, which was worthy of bringing to neighbors, and galushki, which may require another try! In return, Margaret has introduced Anna to dishes representing her Scottish heritage including haggis and cranachan, which Anna enthusiastically samples.
Currently, Anna is reading Harry Potter to Margaret, and she is committed to learning 20 new English words each day. “Her single-minded focus is so impressive – from learning English to her studies to drumming on the vibraphone,” Margaret says, with pride. They spent Christmas with Margaret’s brother’s family in Wales where Anna was “spoiled rotten”. They recently celebrated Anna’s 19th birthday by seeing the Colin Currie Quartet at King’s Place. Margaret says that she wouldn’t have ever known about the concert, which she described as “mind blowing,” had it not been for Anna.
Anna has ambitious aspirations as a professional musician. She is busy with her studies and preparing for the Royal Academy of Music and is hopeful about the prospects of visiting her parents in Poland soon. Oh, and she really wants to get her hands on a snare drum! As Anna reflects, “I like planning things. It had become so difficult to plan in Ukraine during the war. You can plan but everything can change.” She is grateful now that many of her plans are coming together.
“I like planning things. It had become so difficult to plan in Ukraine during the war. You can plan but everything can change.” Anna
As for Margaret, she is looking forward to having Anna stay with her for a while longer. She says she is grateful for the support that the Refugees at Home community has provided – from the Placement Coordinator, to the host Hubs, to the vibraphone found through the community Facebook page, to all the doors that have been opened to Anna via the R@H board and team.
Reflecting on her hosting experience, Margaret believes that “Sometimes in life you just have to take a risk. Anna and I were meant to meet. And it’s nothing compared to what is going on in Ukraine.”