A Ukrainian mum forced to flee her country with young children is a regular volunteer at the Bromley foodbank that supported her family when they first arrived here.

Kateryna Nechyporuk, 32, came to the UK on April 2 with her husband, two young daughters and stepson.

They travelled via Poland and Germany to live with extended family in Orpington - with very few possessions and leaving behind their home and business.

With no means to support themselves in the UK, Kateryna sought out the nearest branch of Bromley Borough Foodbank and received an emergency food parcel to help feed her young family.

And just weeks after arriving in the UK, Kateryna offered her services as a volunteer on this first visit.

She saw it as a way to improve her English and give back to the community that has been so welcoming.

Kateryna said: “Lots of people have helped us - they really have been unbelievably supportive - so this was my opportunity to do something in return."

Kateryna now works at the foodbank every Wednesday, helping to prepare food parcels for other families in need.

Bromley Borough Foodbank is part of The Trussell Trust nationwide network of foodbanks providing emergency food and support to people in crisis.

It operates on a voucher scheme with referrals made by agencies including Citizens Advice and Jobcentre.

It has four foodbanks in Bromley - each one open on a different day, providing food to those who need it and advice in relation to underlying issues, such as debt.

Almost every week since Kateryna started volunteering, other Ukrainian refugees have contacted the foodbank for support.

Rosemary Jordon co-manages the Wednesday foodbank at the Oak Community Centre in St Paul’s Cray with husband, Roger.

She said: “Kateryna is a great asset to the team.

"She makes people feel comfortable and helps us to communicate with other newly arrived Ukranians.

"It’s a welcoming support, especially for those who have experienced trauma.

"She’s always encouraging and very willing to help others, even after all that she has been through.”

Before the outbreak of war, Kateryna and husband Oleg had recently bought a new home and were running their own cafe, now closed indefinitely.

Oleg also has a medical condition that prevents him from serving with the Ukranian army.

Since their arrival, the family have been sleeping on the living room floor at Oleg’s brother’s home but hope to be in a position to rent a place of their own soon.

Oleg is a chef and has found work at a Chislehurst cafe.

They intend on going back to Ukraine after the war, although they have no idea when that might be.

All three children have settled well in Bromley schools - despite the language barrier.

The two girls are young enough to consider this as an adventure, whereas Kateryna’s stepson is a teenager and understands more about what is happening.

“We try not to tell them too much but they have been faced with the hard reality of war. We are bringing them up to respect other cultures as this is likely to happen again,” Kateryna said.

The couple made the decision to flee on March 6 when Russian troops came within 1km of their home and it took more than 12 hours to reach Poland on a packed out train.

They had just two backpacks of luggage between the five of them, and Kateryna is fearful for her 70-year-old father who remains at his home in Ukraine.

She explained: “There were people everywhere, piled high in the carriages and sitting all over the floor.

"We were in total darkness and had our phones turned off so that the Russians couldn’t track us.

“My dad has kidney problems and doesn’t speak any English so refused to come with us.

"I felt terrible leaving him but he couldn’t be persuaded.

“Before we left, I couldn’t eat or sleep.

"Oleg was encouraging me to keep eating to remain strong for the children, but I physically couldn’t.

"I was too anxious.

"We could never have expected this living in the centre of Europe."

On the morning of the Russian invasion on February 24, the family woke to the sound of bombing at 5am.

Afterwards they spent every night sleeping on makeshift beds in the basement of their apartment block alongside their neighbours, including small children and newborn babies.

They were being told that the Russian army was in Ukraine to protect Russian speakers, although that makes no sense to Kateryna.

She said: “We are all bilingual. We understand and speak Russian fluently.

"That doesn’t mean that we want to be part of Russia.”

Despite helping to run the family business back home, Kateryna is not able to work at managerial level in the UK because her English is not strong enough.

The family are eligible for Universal Credit which means that they only had to resort to using the foodbank once when they first arrived in Orpington.

Kateryna feels said about having to leave her country at a time when the standard of living for most Ukranians was improving.

She said: “Before this war, our quality of life was getting better and better each year. We were becoming a digital nation, we had greater freedom to travel and we could become business owners.”

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