IT IS a bitter sweet moment for the Ukrainian guests sheltering from war in West Devon — marking 12 months since the invasion.

They are safe and they are happy among fellow Ukrainians and host locals — but the war continues and friends, family and colleagues are dying back home in the armed forces or as innocent victims.

In a gesture of thanks to their local hosts and to remind the community of the continued need for support, the grateful refugees are welcoming Tavistock residents to a candle-lit vigil tomorrow (Friday).

Tania Kovalchuk, is one of the linchpins of the local Ukrainian refugees. She was already working in the UK as a scientist when the Russians invaded and has supported the arrival of several.

Now she is seeking refugee status herself in the UK, because her visa has run out and she cannot return safely: ‘It is difficult for us to be away from our country when it is being bombed by the Russians. Our president urgently needs jets and armaments. The quicker he gets it, the quicker the war will be won by Ukraine.’

She added: ‘We would like to be joined in our memorial service by anyone in the area who supports our country as we thank them and remember all those who have died in the war.’

Liubov Malynovska nearly lost her two daughters at Kiev railway station in the exodus from Ukraine at the beginning of the conflict

Tears came to her eyes as Liubov recalled the panic-stricken moment she lost touch with Kateryna, six, and Mariia, ten, at Kiev station when they were fleeing the war: ‘It was so busy, there were big crowds rushing to get a train. But we didn’t know where the trains were going or which to get or when they were going. So, in the mad rush we were just trying to get on any train if there was space.

‘But suddenly I could not see my daughters. It was very scary and I was frightened I would not see them again. It was the birthday of my older daughter on that day.’

Thankfully they were soon reunited and travelled to Hungary and stayed with family on the way and then on to Poland where her sister’s husband worked. With few possessions: ‘Just my children and our documents- that’s all I needed, all that is important. Tania helped get us a visa. ’

Liubov said: ‘When we got to England the Methodist Church and Kelly College helped sponsor children staying here. The Quakers helped us with food and clothes. We did not know any Ukrainians here, so it was important to have local people helping.’

Liubov, a podiatrist in Ukraine is now improving her English and has a place in September to study for a diploma in health care: ‘People have been so kind and generous giving up their homes. We did not expect to be here so long and have been amazed how patient people are in Tavistock.’

Maryna Kyrii, (a long-term friend of Tania) and her son Matvii, 13, from Kiev travelled to England by car with her husband Tymofii and a mini convoy of cars for 20 hours non-stop on part of their escape. They slept on the floor in a Ukrainian cinema on the way and stayed for two months in a city near Poland waiting for a UK visa.

An added trauma for her was awaiting clearance for her cat Marta to be brought into the UK: ‘It might sound sily, but she means a lot to both of us.’ 

Her husband Tymofii returned to Ukraine to work and she lives in a small village. Her son enjoys tennis, has friends and his English is good, but he does miss his friends in Kiev. She also lost a close family member to illness in Ukraine.

Maryna, a former tourism firm director in Ukraine, praised her host family: ‘They are amazing. I am still thinking about going back to Ukraine to reconnect with our families. But we don’t know where is safe any more in Ukraine, especially as with children, it is our main concern.’