At 4am on February 24, 2022, Anna Bozhenko woke up to the sound of what she thought were fireworks. It was the sound of the first bombs landing near her native Kharkiv in Ukraine and the sound of her life and her son’s life changing forever.
“At that moment, you want to start to cry, to be hysterical,” says Bozhenko. “But at the same time I understood that you have to put yourself together and start to think about what you have to do. I was, of course, very frightened and there’s a feeling that you don’t have a future. You don’t even have tomorrow.”
Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter
After five nights of going to bed fully clothed in case she had to flee before sunrise, Bozhenko and her son were forced to leave their home for the relative safety of Lviv. The conflict followed and the next stop was Montenegro as Vladimir Putin’s war engulfed Ukraine.
Then she applied for the Homes for Ukraine scheme – the Westminster government initiative that matched Ukrainian refugees with willing hosts and saw 114,400 Ukrainians head to the UK.
By May, Bozhenko had matched with a family and had a safe place for her 15-year-old son to call home in Brent, north-west London. “It was fine but, of course, it’s not easy,” the 38-year-old tells The Big Issue. “We had good relations but it’s not easy to live with someone when your whole life you have lived alone. We are very thankful to them and they hosted us and they gave us this opportunity and helped with the school. I’m very thankful.”