portrait of a woman in the park

Big changes for this young Ukrainian in London

The UK has taken in more than 250,000 Ukrainian refugees since the start of Russia’s invasion in February 2022. The World follows up on the story of one of them: a young woman who fled to London alone in March of 2022.

The World

In early March 2022, Maria Onofreichuk’s life couldn’t have been more unstable.

Just a week earlier, Russia invaded her home country of Ukraine, prompting her to flee to Western Europe.

Days into her journey, Onofreichuk found herself living in a homeless shelter in Calais, desperately waiting for a British visa so she could go and live with a family friend in London.

She was 24, single and traveling without her parents for the first time in her life. 

She was worried, afraid and quickly ran out of money. 

What a difference a year makes. 

At a park recently in North London, Onofreichuk shared some big updates.

“I had a wedding, got married and am waiting for a child,” she said, pointing to her belly. “I am happy now.”

Her new husband’s name is Grisha. 

When he temporarily agreed to host Maria in London last year, she knew him as a friend from her hometown near the Romanian-Ukrainian border. 

bridal party wearing orthodox clothing

 Onofreichuk and her husband at their wedding.

Credit:

Courtesy of Maria Onofreichuk

He had already been living in London for several years, working as a plumber when Russia’s invasion began. 

“When I came, we fell in love. That’s all,” she told The World. 

Well...not quite all. 

They fell in love, found an apartment on the outskirts of North London, and have since been navigating the ups and downs of living life as refugees while their home country is at war. 

Take their wedding, which took place in late May. 

Onifreychuk shared photos of her elaborate bejeweled lace white gown and the ornate Romanian Orthodox Church where the ceremony occurred. 

Because of the war at home, their wedding was held in Romania. 

“My wedding was very beautiful, but unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of people because of the war in Ukraine,” she said.

Only 43 guests, almost all women, since most Ukrainian men are fighting. 

But Onofreichuk isn’t complaining.

She said it’s just another reality of what life is like for many Ukrainians like her living out their formative years amidst conflict. 
 
Today Onofreychuk is still adjusting to her new life in London, a city she’s fallen in love with. 

She works in a Polish grocery store in her neighborhood and has been making friends with her coworkers. 

Slowly, her English is improving. 

She and her husband hope to move into a bigger place before their new child arrives in the fall. Bigger also means more expensive, but they’ve been saving up as much as possible. 

She said that the last year had been a lesson in independence. 

“I changed myself; I became more of an adult,” she said. “I learned how to live without my parents.” 

In other words, Onofreichuk says she’s not afraid anymore. She supposes that’s what it means to become an adult. 

Related: Calls for UK to welcome Sudanese refugees the same way as Ukrainians

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