‘The North East is the best place ever’: Ukrainian refugees in Whitley Bay share their touching stories

“We had two apartments in Kharkiv and both were destroyed. At the start of the war my husband thought it was a low probability to destroy both our houses.”

Two Ukrainian mothers seeking refuge from the wartorn country on the shores of Whitley Bay have opened up about their experience.

Kristina Babenko and Iryna Orshak have been welcomed to the seaside town with open arms and are currently helping to put on the Soul of Ukraine exhibition at the Whitley Bay Big Local.

The displays look to help teach Brits about Ukrainian culture and the reality of the situation in the country.

Visitors can see artwork, take part in workshops and meet the new Ukrainian residents in the area. The exhibition runs until Saturday, August 27.

Below Kristina and Iryns share their touching stories with NewcastleWorld.

Kristina Babenko


Kristina Babenko

"It was another life. I used to work as a university professor and I had my house with my family - my husband and daughter.

"It's very hard to explain. The first hours of the war were awful because we knew nothing, didn't know what to do or what to feel. But humans' brains are strange and normalise everything. In a couple weeks you think everything is okay as long as a bomb is exploding in another district or several hundred metres from your house.

"It was awful, I was in Ukraine for the first five months of war, my daughter was in another city, but me and my husband were in Kharkiv.

"Today is Day of Kharkiv [August 23]. Today in 1943, the city was liberated from the Nazis, so today is the day of my city.

The aftermath of bombing in Kharkiv


"I've been here since the start of July, so around seven weeks. We had two apartments in Kharkiv and both were destroyed. At the start of the war my husband thought it was a low probability to destroy both our houses. When it happened it was a quick decision [to move].

"I think the North East is the best place ever. We have the greatest host, 100 amazing neighbours... I almost feel guilty! I am happy now, my daughter is here in a safe place with our amazing hosts. We moved to this area with two friends so have our own small Ukrainian community. We are very lucky."

Iryna Orshak

Iryna Orshak

"Before the war I lived a normal life, like all Ukrainians. I worked for the city council and had my husband and two daughters. Then life became tough when Russia bombed our country and killed our people.

"I moved with my youngest daughter to England. I'm really happy and thankful to English people for their support.


"My husband, eldest daughter and my parents stayed in Ukraine. I'm here with my youngest daughter, who is 14.

Boris Johnson visited Ukraine on Wednesday (Image: Getty Images)

"It's my first time in England. People have had open hearts and I'm excited and thankful for all the support.

"When we moved to England I wanted to do more for our country and for English people. I can show you our culture, clothes, and music [in the exhibition]. We wanted to unite the Ukrainians because together is better, it's hard with the war."