A FAMILY of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict in their homeland were given a raputurous welcome in Chepstow today as they moved into their new home.

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.

Ms Onopa's intention was to go via train and bus to Bucharest via the port city of Odessa - but the Russian bombing of the city put paid to that.

That's where a group of kind-hearted Chepstow fundraisers came in - funding a taxi from Dnipro to Bucharest in Romania.

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Having spent the past five weeks in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, awaiting authentication of their online applications by the British Embassy, Ms Onopa and her boys - Dimitro, five; Sergiy, eight; Nikolay, 10; Illia, 11; Rusean, 13; and Oleg, 15 - they finally arrived a week ago and were officiallly welcomed to Chepstow earlier today.

Pupils from St Mary's RC Primary lined the entrance to the school and Ms Onopa and her sons moved into their new home - the recently refurbished former caretaker's bungalow sited on the schools grounds.

Cheers of "croeso" and "welcome" greeted the family as they made their way inside the school.

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Ms Onopa spoke about her experiences in reaching Chepstow and of her thanks at having been given the chance to settle somewhere safe with her sons.

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

"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.

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

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Reaching Chepstow, Ms Onopa described the first time she was met by the people who had helped to secure her passage out of Ukraine.

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

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

Ms Onopa said she posted an appeal for help on social media and a group in the UK said they would help her.

She said travelling to the border she had seen thousands of displaced families, desperate for a route out of the war-torn areas.

In tears, she told the PA news agency: “I was terrified I would lose my children so I wrote the addresses and contact details of my family in their rucksacks and clothes in the hope that should I die someone would know where to take them to safety.”


Since arriving in the UK Ms Onopa has said she has felt “overwhelmed” with support.

“When I first saw the home where we were going to live, visited the school where my children will go and went to Sunday service I was overwhelmed with all the support.

“I don’t have enough words to describe how grateful I am to everyone who helped.

“I’m overwhelmed with the feeling that my kids can finally feel safe.”

Ms Onopa said she is keen to learn English and has already enrolled in classes.

Having been a keen cook and baker in Ukraine, she said she would like to start her own pastry business, and she wants to volunteer to help other Ukrainian refugees settle.

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The boys also received some gifts upon their arrival, with Welsh rugby scarves and a rugby ball proving immediately popular.

In attendance were Monmouth MP David Davies and the Archbishop of Cardiff George Stack.

Presenting Ms Onopa with the keys, Mr Stack said: “This is an opportunity to say to our new family croesi i Gymru, welcome to Wales.

“The land of sanctuary.

“And we hope and pray that you will be happy and fulfilled and content as you begin to understand what wonderful people live and work in Wales.”

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Chairman of the school governors Phil Cotterell said: "Lilia and her family will not be alone, there is an incredible network of support here in Chepstow.



"I am thrilled that we are welcoming children from Ukrainian refugees into our school family.

"We know from the generosity of the community supporting our appeal that all families fleeing Ukraine will be made most welcome in South Wales."

The appeal was supported by a number of local businesses including Alcumus and Barratt and David Wilson Homes South Wales, and community groups such as the Chepstow and Caldicot Lions and Chepstow Roundtable.

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