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Ukrainian mum ‘thought she was being scammed’ as UK welcome too good to believe

A Ukrainian mother-of-six, who was given a warm UK welcome that seemed too good to believe, thought she was being scammed.

A bungalow near St Mary's school in Chepstow, Wales had been beautifully decorated for Liliya Onopa and her children.

The community of Chepstow truly left no stone unturned.

However, Liliya couldn’t understand why strangers would go out of their way to help her and her family. She kept asking: "Why? Is it a scam? I don’t understand why people are doing so much for us."

Translator Julia Dubin explained: "I keep saying to her that it’s different here. The people here want to help each other and they are desperate to help her. I tell her that there doesn’t have to be a ‘why’."

Speaking to Wales Online, she said: “There are even scissors for manicures, there were even slippers for us all. It’s those little things. When we came here for the first night there was a hot meal for the children.”

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Liliya lost her four-year-old daughter Liza in a fire at their home in Mar’ivka in the centre of the country. Liliya had also lost her 13-year-old daughter Vladochka.

So when Russian forces approached she said that, despite the hostility she could face, she felt she had to risk fleeing the country.

“We knew how dangerous the journey would be. We had planned to go by Odesa but the route there was so devastated it was too much. We then planned to go by Lviv but then that was targeted.

“Eventually we got to Bucharest. Explosions in Ukraine were going off all around us. My kids are so scared that when we went to see a band this week and there were fireworks they ran away and started panicking that it was happening again.”

Through tears, Liliya explained how life hadn’t always been this way.

She said: “Before the war started we lived peacefully in our village and among Russian and Armenian people too.

“I never felt any problems there until now. Now I speak to my friends there and they are fighting in Mariupol. People in [Russian] occupied territories don’t have access to clean water, food or medication.

On Friday, Liliya and her boys walked through the school gates, cheered on by pupils who performed a guard of honour to officially welcome them.

After being formally presented with the keys to her new home, Liliya addressed the community which got her there.

She said: “I have been scared, but not as such scared for my life but for the lives of my children.

“I am so, so grateful to every single person who has made this all possible, and for bringing us from our home to Chepstow safely. We had issues with our visas which were solved and we are so grateful that we are now able to feel safe again."

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