A UKRAINIAN mother who, along with her six sons, was forced to flee her homeland and has now found sanctuary in Chepstow has spoken about the harrowing journey she and her six sons faced.

Lilya Onopa and her family of six boys - aged between six and 15 - used to live in a village near the city of Dnipro

However, following the Russian invasion the family were forced to flee.

"Before the war we lived very peacefully," she said.

"Ukraine is a very tolerant place."

She explained that, before the war there had been many Russian and Armenian families in her village. Ms Onopa herself speaks both Russian and Ukrainian.

"After Maidan in 2014, we were trying to rebuild," she said.

The Maidan Revolution, also called The Revolution of Dignity, took place in Ukraine in February 2014, between protesters and security forces in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

The events culminated in the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych and the overthrow of the Ukrainian government.

Ms Onopa said: "My son was due to go to college to become a dentist."

However, it was not to be, as Russia - on the orders of President Putin - invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Ms Onopa and her sons - Dimitro, five, Sergiy, eight, Nikolay, 10, Illia, 11, Rusean, 13 and Oleg, 15 - were forced to flee their homes by the fighting.

However, the route out of Ukraine proved "very complicated and there were a lot of problems along the way".

"Lots of routes out of the country had been bombed," Ms Onopa said.

"We had planned to go via Odessa, but the bombs stopped that route.

"People offering to help were ‘like mushrooms in the rain’. One day they sprang up and the next day they were gone.

"People were too scared to help."

Ms Onopa says she keeps in regular contact with friends and family back in Ukraine, but that the situation there remains fraught.

"I'm in touch with them every day," she said.

"Many are fighting. They are helping with freeing Mariupol."

She explained that there was a fear in Ukraine that Russia would invade countries nearby which had provided sanctuary to refugees.

"In the occupied areas people don’t have access to simple things like food and medicine," she said, explaining that the fighting was also close to home.

"Recently a 23-year-old boy was buried in my village," she said.

"He had been fighting in the war. There is fighting about 20km away from my village.

"My boys know the sounds of explosions and they are really scared of them."

However, thanks to the generosity and hard work of the people of Chepstow - in particular the governors at St Mary's RC Primary School - Ms Onopa and her boys can feel safe once more.

Speaking of her experiences today, Ms Onopa was assisted by a translator – Julia, who lives in Llandogo and speaks Russian – who was put in touch with the family through the power of social media.

Asked how she felt walking into her new home on that first day, Ms Onopa had to take a second to compose herself before answering.

"I was met by people, we were exhausted, but we were hugged and made to feel so welcome," she said.

"When I came into a warm house and saw everything was ready for us.

"A hot meal had already been prepared.


"There were handmade throws on the beds which almost moved me to tears. To think someone had sat there and made that for me with their own hands.

"Each day someone will come and help us with things like shopping for food and setting up a bank account. We are so grateful."