A Ukrainian refugee now living and working in Lincoln described the emotional phone call with his father, who said it could be the ‘last’ as Russia began the invasion of its neighbours.
Oleksandr Nykonenko was born in the city of Sumy in north-eastern Ukraine before moving to Kharkiv at the age of 15 to study automotive engineering.
In January this year, the 22-year-old moved to Czech Republic for a placement as part of the practical element of his course, and it was the first time he’d ever left his homeland.
After a month there his world was turned upside down as he learnt of the news of Russia’s invasion of his native Ukraine on February 24. Oleksandr’s father, who has the same name as him, his mother Galina and sister Helena were still in Ukraine and he was worried about his family.
In the days that followed Oleksandr had a phone conversation with his father, who works in a hydroelectric power station, who said “this may be my last phone call to you”.
Fortunately, it was not the last phone call and he has been able to maintain regular contact with his parents, and sister, since then and during his time in Czech Republic, and now in Lincoln.
Back in Ukraine around 4km from his home, Oleksandr said there were 300 tanks, and 500 other technical smaller vehicles and tanks, and lot of guns. He said his parents helped Ukrainian soldiers with his mum baking cakes for them.
Oleksandr and his family still worry about each other and he speaks to them regularly as he continues to adapt to his life in Lincoln, while his parents want to stay in Sumy.
His sister Helena initially fled to Poland before returning home to Sumy, but she is potentially looking at moving to Lincoln too.
Oleksandr told The Lincolnite: “I wanted to go home and planned to be in the Ukrainian army. My mother and father said ‘please no, go to another country (to be safe)’, and if they didn’t tell me this maybe I’d have gone back to Ukraine.
“I now understand what this perfect feeling is when you can call your parents and listen to their voice… it’s wow.
“(Before the invasion) everything in Ukraine was perfect. I lived in Kharkiv and had a good feeling because a person can do anything there. Before the war living in Ukraine was the perfect life.I hope we get a victory in this war because we can’t lose this war.”
Oleksandr arrived in Lincoln for the first time on April 13 with only a small bag with him.
Within a few days he’d already secured a trial as a mechanic at Wilco Motosave on Newark Road, before starting work that weekend. His initial visa ran out while he was in Czech Republic so he spent time in Istanbul in Turkey and Sofia in Bulgaria before his new visa arrived.
When asked about what he thought of his new job, Alex said: “Perfect. I like this job. Everything is perfect in this country, like my dream. It (Lincoln) is so beautiful and the people in this place are cool.
“I knew about Lincoln, it’s an engineering city, because the first tank was built here. When I see a lot of music in this place, it’s ‘wow’ too.”
Oleksandr is living with his Lincoln host Robert Oldfield – a 56-year-old Cardiology Practitioner at Lincoln County Hospital. He recently met up with some other people from Ukraine who are living in the city, while he continues his studies remotely in Lincoln.
When asked about the impact of Robert and any message he would like to say to him, he added: “Thank you very. Thank you for your care. With this care my father and mother are feeling better.”
Oleksandr’s host Robert told The Lincolnite: “Seeing the situation, it was just terrible, and it felt like there was nothing we could do… but with people then wanting to leave Ukraine and find a new home I thought ‘that’s something I can offer, I’ve got a spare room’.
“It’s gone really smoothly. I think the visa took a couple of weeks, which seems a long time, but that’s shorter than for other people.
“It’s been fantastic. When he first made touch I asked him what his priorities were and he said he wanted to work as a mechanic, so I put something on Facebook and a friend of mine came back and said there was a garage with some vacancies. Alex arrived on the Wednesday, had a trial on the Friday and started work on the Saturday.
“He seems to be remarkably well adjusted to it all and is taking everything in his stride, and being positive and enthusiastic he likes his job.
“I also got the pleasure of taking him through Castle Square for the first time and seeing his reaction when he saw the Cathedral and the Castle. It was all lit up in red that night and his jaw just dropped because it is a beautiful place to be
“We’ll do the tourist things and he likes machines and engines, so we’ll go and see the tank.”
When asked what he makes of the reaction of people in England, and in Lincoln, to help the Ukrainian refugees, Robert added: “It’s lovely. We went into the Red Cross trying to get him a SIM card and somebody else in the shop recognised he was from Ukraine.
“They came up and talked to him and gave him a hug, it was lovely, people are really positive which is nice.”