Six months on from the Russian invasion, and Ukrainians in Wales are celebrating their Independence Day. 

It's been 31 years since Ukraine declared itself independent of the tyranny of the Soviet Union, while it's also six months to the day that Vladimir Putin's forces invaded the country. 

Portraits of Ukrainian refugees in Wales have been captured to commemorate the day, and to to shine a light on their stories and experiences of fleeing war.

Ohla's Story

The National Wales: Ohla Boyko © Joann RandlesOhla Boyko © Joann Randles

Standing barefoot, in a traditional Ukrainian embroidered dress and Vinok, proudly draped in the Ukrainian flag, Ohla Boyko, 36, and her family fled Boryspil - a city near Kyiv that was bombed on the first day of the Russian invasion.

On the first day of the war, Olha watched the nightmare that was unfolding from the 8th floor of her apartment.

Missiles lit up the sky and the horrific sound of bomb explosions with dust-filled clouds of debris filled the air.

Ohla and her family witnessed the sheer panic of cars full of families desperately trying to leave from the car park below.

The National Wales: Ohla Boyko (36), Vlada Boyko (11), Zalta Boyko (8), Ohla's mother Valentyna Boyko (57). © Joann RandlesOhla Boyko (36), Vlada Boyko (11), Zalta Boyko (8), Ohla's mother Valentyna Boyko (57). © Joann Randles
Fleeing their home, Olha and her family travelled to a village south of Kyiv. However, it was not safe there either.

It was then that they made the swift decision to travel to western Ukraine before seeking safety in the UK.

Throughout this ordeal, Ohla was 34 weeks pregnant. The first time her family felt safe was when they reached their sponsor's house in Llandovery, on April 4, 2022.

Ohla soon gave birth to a baby girl, Stefania, in Carmarthen, who is now 4 months old.
The National Wales: Ohla Boyko (36), Vlada Boyko (11), Zalta Boyko (8), Stefania Boyko (4 months). © Joann RandlesOhla Boyko (36), Vlada Boyko (11), Zalta Boyko (8), Stefania Boyko (4 months). © Joann Randles
Ohla and her family are settling in to Welsh life well. Her children are currently attending a Welsh school and her husband has secured a full-time job.

The family are very grateful for the support from their sponsors. What Olha and her family like most about people of Wales is that they are "kind and always supportive". 

"They try to help and listen to see if there is anything they can do to help me and my family settle better in Wales," she says.
The National Wales: Ohla Boyko. © Joann RandlesOhla Boyko. © Joann Randles

What Ohla and her family would like most is to return to Ukraine so Ohla can see her grandparents who she loves dearly. She hopes there will be a time when she can cuddle them and introduce them to her youngest daughter.

When asked about what they miss the most about Ukraine, Vlada, 11, and Zalta, 8, respond with: “everything".

Halyna's Story

Accompanied with the colours of Ukrainian flag, Halyna Andrushyna, 36, and her daughters Kateryna Andrushyna, 12, and Anna Andrushyna, 9, proudly wave the flag for Ukrainian Independence Day.

Like Ohla, Halyna and her family are refugees from the same town of Boryspil.

Currently living with their hosts in Mumbles, Swansea, Halyna and her daughters are settling in well.

“The main values of Ukrainian’s and British people are the same - family, children, and love in the family," Halyna says.

"That is why we are feeling very at ease and happy in this environment.”
The National Wales: Halyna Andrushyna (36). © Joann RandlesHalyna Andrushyna (36). © Joann Randles
As a family, Halyna and her daughters are integrating as much as they can.

Their hosts help take Kateryna and Anna to school, and encourage them to play and socialise with local children. They also take them to church choir and Swansea Ballet School every Saturday.

Halyna has also found full-time work in a nearby restaurant in Mumbles.

The National Wales: Halyna Andrushyna. © Joann RandlesHalyna Andrushyna. © Joann Randles

Halyna says she is grateful her daughters can finally sleep well: “The children have stopped dreaming about war and having nightmares.”

What the family like most about Wales is: “Everyone is smiling, everyone is friendly, kind and polite. We feel respected and accepted by the people.

"I love the nature of Wales. Everything is green and blossoming. Every month there is something new in bloom.”

The National Wales: Kateryna Andrushyna (12), Anna Andrushyna (9). © Joann RandlesKateryna Andrushyna (12), Anna Andrushyna (9). © Joann Randles

Kateryna and Anna are also talented ballet dancers. In Ukraine, they trained at the Kyiv Academy of Art INSE, and since 2018 the sisters have won many international awards.

Kateryna started ballet when she was 4 years old, and Anna started when she was just 2. With aspirations to become professional ballerinas, since arriving in Wales, the sisters have applied for the Royal Ballet School in London.

They are soon to have an exam at the prestigious establishment, and have been training tirelessly in order to prepare themselves.
The National Wales: Kateryna Andrushyna (12). © Joann Randles Kateryna Andrushyna (12). © Joann Randles
However, the family long to return home and her children deeply miss their father who remains in Ukraine.

Halyna’s daughters also miss their grandparents and the family have expressed deep concern for their grandmother, Halyna’s mother.

“She lives in Luhansk county which is occupied, so my heart is always in fear something may happen to her," says Halyna. 

The National Wales: Anna Andrushyna (9). © Joann RandlesAnna Andrushyna (9). © Joann Randles

Meanwhile, in Ukraine itself, residents of Kyiv woke up to air raid sirens this morning.

Authorities in the capital banned large-scale gatherings until tomorrow (Thursday August 28), fearing the national holiday might bring particularly heavy Russian missile attacks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the public to be vigilant.