A 15-year-old Ukrainian girl who was shot at as she fled the war-torn country with her family has found a new life in Oxfordshire.

Anastasia Shpot, her two sisters and parents, made the harrowing journey to the Polish border two days after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The family slept in their car, undertook the treacherous crossing of a bridge demolished by a bomb and narrowly missed being shot by Russian troops as they, and other fleeing civilians, stopped for sustenance.  

“We were woken at 4am. War had started. It was so confusing. Dad said they were very close. There was fighting outside. When the shooting happened, we had to find cover and hide. 

“After two days, we left. Dad came with us. We had to drive across the country and sleep in the car. 

Oxford Mail: Russia invaded Ukraine in February Russia invaded Ukraine in February

“One day, in Melnitsa, we stopped at a cafe that was serving tea to people who were fleeing. There were about 100 people there when, suddenly, more shooting started. All of us had to run away as quickly as we could.

“In that attack, the cafe was destroyed. It was very close,” the teenager explained.

For the Shpots, however, war in Ukraine began long before February 2022 as their home is in the city of Donetsk, in the disputed eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas.

In 2014, pro-Russian forces began an assault on Donbas, forcing Ukraine to retaliate.

Anastasia’s father, a chaplain, has been on the frontline since fighting began in Donbas and headed to the conflict zone in Kyiv once his wife and children were safely in Poland. 

Anastasia, who is the only member of her family who speaks English, said: “It was very scary. I have barely seen my dad for eight years.

“Since 2014, he has been saying we must be prepared to move quickly because the fighting was getting closer and closer to our home.” 

Oxford Mail: A member of the Ukrainian military stands in front of a damaged building in the city of Irpin, Ukraine. Picture: PAA member of the Ukrainian military stands in front of a damaged building in the city of Irpin, Ukraine. Picture: PA

Once in Poland, Anastasia, her sisters - aged 8 and 17 - and mum spent two weeks staying with a family friend. It was a two-room apartment with nine people.

“We didn’t know what was going on. It was like a nightmare. It was very hard living with nine people in such a small space.” 

Following this, the family moved to a hostel Warsaw and met team members from Dorchester Regeneration, who helped them secure UK visas and a home for them in Oxfordshire.

Oxford Mail: Anastasia Shpot and her mother Natalia Shpot in Heyford Park Anastasia Shpot and her mother Natalia Shpot in Heyford Park

On May 26, the Shpots moved to Heyford Park near Bicester, a development run by Dorchester Regeneration that transformed the old US air base into a new community which has provided homes for several Ukrainian refugees.

“It was my first time on a plane. Our home here has four rooms. It’s exciting. It’s so lovely - we even have a garden where we can relax and eat breakfast together.

“Everyone has been so kind and welcoming to us. But it’s great to meet other people who have the same experience as I do. It gives us a connection - we have very similar stories,” Anastasia said.

Anastasia and her sisters have all been enrolled in Heyford Park School and, as she is a keen pianist, enjoys the weekly music lessons at the school.

She added: “It’s great. Everyone has been so kind. In September, I will go into sixth form. I’m nervous, but excited.

“We have a six-month visa at the moment. If I want to stay, I need to apply for it to be extended to three years.

“My dad says the education system in England is very good and that if I can attend sixth form here it would give me a great education to then take back and use to help build the new Ukraine once the war is over.”

Oxford Mail: Damaged buildings in the Borodyanka area of Kyiv. Picture: PADamaged buildings in the Borodyanka area of Kyiv. Picture: PA

Despite the safety of their new life in Heyford Park, the family miss their life in Ukraine and are worried for the safety of family members and friends still in the country.

“I am very scared for my grandparents - I wish they were here with us but they’re unable to travel. And dad can’t come because there is too much important work for him to be doing on the front line.

“He tries to call us once a week but it’s not always possible and talking on the phone can be dangerous for him. We all miss him.

“I also miss my friends. Some are still in Ukraine, others are in Poland and Germany. We are very happy to be here and be safe, but I love it in Ukraine.

“I miss my dogs. Every morning before school, me and my friends would take my dogs and walk and play along a beautiful river close to my home - I feel very lucky to be here, but I miss that very much.”


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This story was written by Sophie Perry. She joined the team in 2021 as a digital reporter.

You can get in touch with her by emailing: sophie.perry@newsquest.co.uk

Follow her on Twitter @itssophieperry

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