Ukrainian mum who fled Russian rockets with toddler overjoyed at National Lottery players’ support | The Sun

If you were off on a trip across Europe with a toddler, you’d likely be weighed down by a ton of gear – buggy, clothes and toys, blankets, beakers, bottles and plenty of snacks, and of course a car seat if you were driving.

But for Ukrainian mum Iryna, her problem wasn’t what to pack – it was how to to protect her little girl from the war devastating her country and escape the Russian artillery pounding her neighbourhood.

So when Iryna, 44, fled Ukraine with her two-year-old daughter Lera, she carried just a single suitcase.

“We left with just a few possessions, because I wasn’t able to take a lot of things,” Iryna says.

“I only had a tiny baby buggy that could fit in a bag, and some clothes.”

When Russian rockets destroyed homes neighbouring hers in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Iryna had faced a heartbreaking decision: she could either stay with her husband and two older sons, or flee to the UK for the sake of Lera’s safety.

“I was torn between wanting to protect my little girl and leaving the family I love behind,” recalls Iryna.

“It was frightening, but I had to make that decision. I was unhappy to leave, but felt we would be protected in this country.”

After travelling by train through Poland, Iryna and Lera reached the safety of the UK on June 12.

They were taken in by Karen Hewitt, 54, and her partner David, 55, who welcomed them into their three-bedroom home in Reading.

“After watching coverage of the war, we really wanted to do something,” says Karen, who runs a health and safety leadership consultancy.

“We decided we had room for a mother and a child, and felt Iryna and Lera would be a really good fit.

“Our daughter Mila is the same age as Lera, and after just one day, the girls were running around like they’d known each other for years.”

Iryna has been overwhelmed by the warm welcome she’s received here.

This includes support from National Lottery-funded charity Baby Basics UK, which provides women and families with essential equipment for babies and kids, such as car seats, clothing, pushchairs and toys.

The charity donates items to vulnerable groups, including teenage mums, women fleeing domestic abuse, refugees and people seeking asylum.

“If I had to travel with Mila, I’d take so much stuff,” says Karen.

“But Iryna arrived with next to nothing, so I got in touch with Baby Basics UK.

“We filled in a form telling them what we needed, and were absolutely amazed when a guy knocked on the door carrying these big boxes filled with things for Lera.

“Iryna was so surprised, and kept asking: ‘Is this for me?’ When you find yourself in a different place, it’s the practical things that can help you achieve some kind of normality, so it’s really helped them to settle in.”

Among the items received thanks to National Lottery funding were a car seat, a new pushchair and an autumn wardrobe for Lera.

The two families have already used the car seat for visits to National Trust houses, and are planning a trip to the seaside.

“To get the bits from Baby Basics UK was amazing,” says Iryna.

“Lera likes new clothes almost more than she likes new toys – she’s a real princess! I was very surprised and grateful, and have been overwhelmed by the kindness shown to me in this country.”

Since arriving in the UK, Iryna has landed a job working in a local restaurant, and is learning English.

She lives very close to her mother-in-law Tatiana and sister-in-law Darya, who also fled Ukraine.

“They’re together in a triangle of families – it’s like a little Ukrainian community, which is great,” says Karen.

Cat Ross, CEO of Baby Basics UK, adds: “It’s amazing to hear from Iryna and her host Karen about just how much our support has helped them begin to rebuild their lives.

“Thanks to National Lottery players, the funding we’ve received covers many of our core costs, so we have been able to free up other resources to start up emergency initiatives, such as our support to Ukrainian families who are resettling.

National Lottery players support health projects near you.

By playing The National Lottery, you’re helping to raise more than £30million a week to support good causes like Baby Basics UK, which was just one of many health and wellbeing projects that received funding last year.

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