As war rages in Ukraine, refugees were given a peace in Oxfordshire

Britain’s kindest village: As barbaric war rages in Ukraine, meet the refugees who were given a peaceful and safe haven in Oxfordshire

  • 50 refugees from Ukraine have found solace in North Moreton, Oxfordshire 
  • Ukrainian refugee Marc, 12, and his mother, 41,  feel safe with their kind hosts
  • He and Yana Vuiev spent a traditional Christmas Day with the Howats
  • Like many host families, the Howats consider it a ‘privilege’ to give a home

All they really wanted for Christmas was victory in the barbaric war started by Vladimir Putin, which forced them to flee their homeland, and a return to peace.

That may remain a distant prospect, but at least 12-year-old Ukrainian refugee Marc and his mother Yana Vuiev feel safe and secure – and managed to get into the festive spirit too – thanks to the warm welcome offered by their British hosts.

They are among 50 refugees from their besieged country given succour in North Moreton, Oxfordshire – dubbed ‘Britain’s kindest village’ and with a population of just 350 – after its generous residents opened their arms and homes to them in April.

Marc and Miss Vuiev, 41, wore traditional embroidered Ukrainian outfits as they posed for photographs ahead of Christmas Day with their hosts Kathy, 60, and Mike Howat, 64, both retired teachers, whose home is a former school building dating back to the 1850s.

Pictured: 12-year-old Ukrainian refugee Marc and his mother Yana Vuiev, 41, with their hosts Kathy, 60, and Mike Howat, 64, both retired teachers, and their children, Georgie, 27, and sons Will, 16 (red top), Bob, 23 (no glasses), and John, 25 (glasses)  at their home in North Moreton, Oxfordhsire

Marc, who has been given a three-year bursary as a day pupil by £22,350-a-year independent Abingdon School, said: ‘I’m very excited to see a real English Christmas. I’ve only read about it in books before.’

The youngster, who also went on a summer camp for Ukrainian children earlier this year run by Mail Force – the charity set up by the Mail – added: ‘I like trying the things here: I’d read Paddington but never had marmalade. I’d only heard of crumpets from Tom Fletcher’s Christmasaurus book but love them now too.’

He and his mum spent a traditional Christmas Day with the Howats, their daughter Georgie, 27, and sons Will, 16, who is also an Abingdon pupil, Bob, 23, and John, 25, and the family’s pet, Boris the bolognese dog.

Miss Vuiev made kutia, a traditional Ukrainian festive dish of poppy seeds, nuts, wheat and honey served on Christmas Eve, for the Howats.

The family are among 50 refugees from their besieged country given succour in North Moreton, Oxfordshire, which has been dubbed ‘Britain’s kindest village’

She speaks good English and said she was ‘honoured’ to be asked to read a Bible lesson at the recent carol service in the village’s 13th-century church. The moving service also featured carols in Ukrainian sung by other refugees.

Miss Vuiev, who ran a marketing agency in Kyiv before the war and now combines two nights’ bar work a week in the village pub, The Bear, with comms work, said: ‘We have so much support here from the villagers, they’ve been so welcoming, and it’s nice to have other Ukrainians around us.

‘I’ve never lived in the countryside before and am enjoying learning about the way of life.

‘Working in the pub is fun. It’s a great experience, the customers are friendly and it’s helping me understand the different accents.’

Courageously, she and Marc are also planning a short visit to her sister in western Ukraine around January 7, the traditional Christmas celebration day in their country’s Orthodox church. A handful of other Ukrainian refugees in the village are considering similar trips. Miss Vuiev said: ‘It’s maybe difficult to understand from the outside – why do you want to go and stay there without any light or electricity and risk danger?

Pictured: Ukrainian family Oleksandr Maiboroda, 62, his wife Olena, 41, and their sons Hryhorii, 17, and Andrii, 13. They live in a converted stables at their host home

‘But we so much want to be together with our families, even for a short time, at this time of year. It means that much to us.’

Like all the host families in the village, the Howats consider it a ‘privilege’ to be able to give a home to their courteous and ‘very easy’ Ukrainian guests. Just over the road, Oleksandr Maiboroda, 62, his wife Olena, 41, and sons Hryhorii, 17, and Andrii, 13, from Donetsk, have been given a comfortable home in a converted former stables at their host family’s property.

As a Ukrainian flag flew and fairy lights twinkled outside, Mr Maiboroda, a talented furniture restorer exempt from war service because of his age, told how he has been busy repairing antiques for locals and carrying out work on the pavilion at Moreton Cricket Club – known as the MCC, like its more famous counterpart.

He said: ‘Our hosts have invited us to celebrate Christmas with them. We’re very happy that we will celebrate in a big family circle. We’re really amazed at how everyone here is always ready to help and solve our problems. It is very nice.’

Mrs Maiboroda, an accomplished seamstress who repairs old military uniforms so they can be sent to Ukraine, said: ‘We’re very grateful to everyone who has helped us adapt to British society.’

Hryhorii, known as Gregory, goes to a nearby college and Andrii to a local school. Their parents believe the education and experiences they are receiving in the UK will help them become part of a future generation of ‘specialists’ who can help to rebuild Ukraine when the war finally ends.

Mr Maiboroda had also organised a party in the village hall to say thank you to the villagers, especially those who have been giving them English lessons.

He said: ‘The theme of the party is to show the Christmas traditions of Ukraine and hold a funny Ukrainian lesson for the English teachers. We will also try to teach a simple dance to everyone.’

It was in March that the Mail first exclusively revealed the village’s plan to take in a community of refugees.

Polly Vacher, 78, a former music teacher who became an amateur pilot aged 50 and has flown solo around the world twice in a single engine aircraft, and her husband Peter, 79, a retired printing firm boss, were a driving force behind the initiative.

Angela Horban, 45, her daughter Alisa, 13, and son Artem, 12, from Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, stayed in their granny flat. But after several months they returned to their home in Ukraine – because they missed husband and father Sergiy, 43, who had remained at work there as the head of a dental hospital, so much.

But the resilient and thankful family has kept in touch – and recently told the Vachers how they overcame the lack of electricity and heat in their snowy homeland with a generator – ordered from Amazon in the UK and delivered to them with the help of other Ukrainians staying in the village.

A couple of other refugees have also returned to Ukraine because they missed their loved ones. Around 43 currently remain in North Moreton.

In the New Year, the Vachers will host another Ukrainian family, who are moving from a different property in the village when it ceases to be available.

One of their new guests recently gave the couple a spiked, wooden mace as a Christmas present. Fittingly, it is a symbol of courage in Ukraine.

And if anyone wondered what they think of Putin in North Moreton, then look no further than a dog waste bin in the middle of the village: it has been adorned with a label referring to the Russian president that says ‘Poo-tin’.

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