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Guests shocked to learn ‘amazing’ hosts are famous couple
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A Ukrainian family who their war-torn country were shocked to find out their UK hosts were famous and have loved staying with the couple in West London
For war-weary Ukrainian refugee Sasha Borysenko, the British woman and her husband who offered to give her family a home were already stars in her eyes.
First, they had kindly taken in her aunt Galya last June. Now, they were offering shelter to fleeing Sasha, her eight-year-old son Mykyta and her mum, Luba.
really WERE stars after all.
Because their hosts turned out to be Countdown’s Rachel Riley and former Strictly pro dancer Pasha Kovalev.
Smiling Rachel, 37, said: “They didn’t know who I was. They had to YouTube Pasha and I.”
And Sasha, 35, added: “We’re so grateful. Rachel and her family are the best people. It feels like we are at home. It was only when I came to the UK that Galya told us, ‘They are stars’. That’s our nickname for Rachel now. We call her a star.”
Rachel’s desire to help Ukrainian refugees is driven by her own family history.
Her great-great-grandparents fled anti-Jewish violence in Ukraine in the early 1900s.
And Russian Pasha, 43, is also keen to show that not everyone from his country backs the war.
Reflecting on how close she has become to her guests at their home in West London, mum-of-two Rachel said: “It feels like we have one big family. For our girls, it’s like they’ve got a big brother in Mykyta.”
A lawyer back in Ukraine, Sasha was forced to flee her home in Enerhodar city, in the southeast, with Luba, 58, and Mykyta in March last year after the Russians invaded.
She said: “ The explosions started on March 4 when the Russians tried to capture the nuclear plant near our home.
“It was a horrible situation when Russian troops came into the city. They started shooting and kidnapping civilians. They were very aggressive.
“After almost a month, we realised that the fighting wasn’t going to end and we had to leave. So I spoke to friends and looked on social media to find out how we could get out.”
It was then that Sasha became involved in a countdown very different to Rachel’s.
“A stranger I met online told me he was leaving and could take three people in his car,” she said.
“At 5am, I got a call from him saying that we had 30 minutes to leave and we couldn’t take anything with us.”
So Sasha, her mum and her son escaped to the west of Ukraine, before ending up in Slovakia – but with no chance of finding work.
“It feels like we have one big family. “For our girls, it’s like they’ve got a big brother in Mykyta.”
They kept in touch with Galya, 56, who had fled her home 700 miles west of Enerhodar and managed to make her way to the UK.
She joined the Riley household after Rachel approached Refugees at Home offering to take people in.
When Galya told her of her relatives’ plight, Rachel immediately offered them the remaining rooms in the house.
Now, Sasha says Mykyta loves Rachel and has become like a son to her – adding that the two families have made “many good memories” and enjoy eating meals together.
Rachel – who shares children Maven, three, and Noa, one, with Pasha – said: “They are always feeding us. If we leave any vegetables unattended they will make borsch [beetroot soup] and we have cooked them meals like roast dinners and shepherd’s pie.”
Sasha, who like the rest of her family cannot speak English, added: “Sometimes we cook, sometimes Rachel cooks. We have learned how to prepare borsch using any ingredients.
“Rachel cooked roast beef for us and dishes we had never tried before. I don’t even know the names of the dishes but they were very good.”
While Sasha says they were all struggling emotionally after leaving Ukraine, they could not have had a warmer welcome from Rachel and Pasha.
She said: “My son was so happy when he arrived. They had prepared a room just for him.”
And Rachel says she has found little Mykyta’s courage inspirational. She said: “His resilience is what has amazed me the most. He came here in September with no English. Now, he can answer basic questions and he’s always playing with the girls.”
Rachel added that Mykyta has become like a “big brother” to Maven, who can speak Russian, and Noa.
Mykyta has even told Rachel she and her daughters could “stay in his house” if there was ever a war in England.
Sasha now works as a cleaner along with Galya and Luba, and hopes to return to Ukraine one day.
She said: “The best place is home but I won’t go back until the Russian troops leave. “For now, I’m very happy living with Rachel.”