A WOMAN from Taunton has welcomed a Ukrainian family who now feels “safe” and “at home”.

Julie O’Donnell joined the Homes for Ukraine scheme to host refugees for a period of six months.

Earlier this week, Mrs O’Donnell and her family welcomed four people, believed to be the first to reach the Taunton area, who were fleeing the war when they first arrived in London on Tuesday evening (March 29).

Now 39-year-old Olga, with her two daughters and her son said they “are safe and understand we are home” in Taunton.

Olga, who has left behind her husband and other family members, was “worried in case we didn’t turn up”, Mrs O’Donnell said.

She would like to go back to her home country, but now she wants to share her experience as “she thinks it is important to tell the story, they want people to know”.

Olga said: “We are exhausted but amazed by the generous gifts from the community. My six-year-old daughter Sofia, asked, 'Is it my birthday?'

“It is important to tell people how hard it is, but that it can be done.

“People at home are frightened to stay but frightened to leave, to go so far away and not know where. They don't know how we have done this, travelling so far to safety.

“The process to get a visa was long and complicated - we didn't have international passports and border force officials kept telling us, two or three days.... 10 days later we got our visas but only with the help of people in Rotary in England and France, who helped with the documentation. Otherwise we would still be stranded in Calais.

“Despite the difficulties, we still managed to get to a place where we feel safe, though it hurts to remember what is happening in Ukraine.

“It has been a long and scary process, and difficult, but now we are safe and understand we are home.”

Mrs O’Donnell said: “They were worried in case we didn’t turn up in London. They were relieved, bewildered, but then they were astonished about how the community in Taunton immediately supported them with toys, food, and offers to help.

“They have identified themselves the need for initial support and networking with other refugees, the community and the council are working hard on that.

“They need practical things, like registering with a doctor, and children need to attend arts and crafts. We have committed to supporting them in doing all of this.

“We committed to hosting them for at least six months. They left their father and family members and friends. They do want to go home; they are looking to go back to Ukraine.”

Somerset County Gazette: #ThereWithUkraine#ThereWithUkraine