Lancaster mum's emotional reunion with gran rescued from Ukraine

Lancaster mum Tanya Mulesa was this week reunited with her beloved gran after the 83-year-old made a gruelling journey to escape war-torn Ukraine.

Natalia Anufriieva travelled 10 hours by lorry from her home in Rivne, in the north of Ukraine, to the border with Hungary.

There she waited a week for her visa to be approved before she was able to take a bus to Budapest, where she was reunited with Tanya and the pair could fly to safety in the UK.

Speaking from Tanya’s home in Halton, Natalia said she was happy to be safe but is “worried sick” about the friends she had to leave behind, along with her beloved cat.

Tanya Mulesa with her gran Natalia Anufriieva, who has been brought over to Lancaster from Ukraine.

And she hopes for a swift end to the war and that she is one day able to return to Ukraine.

Tanya said it was “utterly heartbreaking” to watch the situation in her home country unfold from afar, and said her gran "never saw it coming".

"We didn’t believe it until it happened and even then people didn’t think it would progress,” Tanya said. "But we were all wrong.”

Rivne, where Tanya also grew up, is west of Kyiv and close to the border with Belarus.

Tanya Mulesa with her gran Natalia Anufriieva at Manchester Airport after flying back to the UK.

Natalia had initially wanted to stay in her home, but as the invasion got progressively closer the decision was made that she must leave for her own safety.

"It is close to a nuclear power station and we started really fearing that it could be a high risk area,” Tanya said.

"We needed to get her out of the immediate zone of impact.”

The day after Natalia left, Russian bombs killed 19 people at a TV station in the town. This was followed by two further bombings to the surrounding area, close to Natalia’s home.

Natalia Anufriieva sets off on her 10-hour lorry trip from her home in Ukraine to the border with Hungary.

Applying under the UK’s Ukraine Family Scheme, it took a week of collecting paperwork and having application forms translated and completed before Natalia’s visa application could be submitted.

Tanya said it was a long and complicated process, and she was concerned about the many people who had been forced to flee their homes without taking with them any of the necessary documents or paperwork required.

Thanks to Tanya’s cousin, who works for a logistics company in Ukraine which operates long-distance transportation, Natalia then travelled in a commercial freezer lorry from Rivne to the most western point of Ukraine and its border with Hungary.

There she stayed with a relative for a week until her visa was approved, when she was able to cross the border by bus and travel to Budapest, where she was finally reunited with a relieved Tanya.

Tanya Mulesa with her gran Natalia Anufriieva, who has been brought over to Lancaster from Ukraine.

The pair then flew back to Manchester Airport and home to Halton, near Lancaster, on Sunday evening.

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"I am just so glad that she’s here,” said Tanya, who was brought up by her grandparents from the age of 12. “It’s been the most stressful and horrific two weeks.

"It was amazing to be able to give her a hug and know she was safe.”

Natalia, whose husband passed away in 1997, fled with just a small suitcase, which she had mostly filled with medical supplies, and so neighbours in Halton have rallied round to provide clothes and other essentials to help.

"We are so humbled by all the support,” Tanya said.

Tanya Mulesa with her gran Natalia Anufriieva in Budapest after being reunited.

Tanya and her family – husband Joseph Atkinson and their five-year-old son Edward – had only recently visited Rivne to see Natalia for Christmas and new year, and Tanya is distraught at the thought of all her childhood friends and colleagues still living there.

"I feel so helpless,” the 37-year-old said. “It’s just surreal and I am finding it hard to concentrate on my work.”

Tanya has lived in England for 10 years and the family moved to Halton four years ago, where Tanya runs her shoe business out of Halton Mill.

She is now raising money through proceeds from sales to support Ukrainian refugees, as well as trying to help match families in the UK with refugees.

Support groups and information sites have sprung up on social media in the Lancaster district, including ‘Lancaster Hosting Ukrainians’ and ‘Caton and Friends for Ukraine’ on Facebook and other groups covering Caton and the Lune Valley.

Local charities City of Sanctuary and Global Link are also offering advice for any families wishing to apply through Lancashire County Council’s Refugee Integration Team to home refugees.

Meanwhile Natalia, who grew up on the Russian side of Ukraine and attended a Russian school, is now planning to spend time some of her time relaxing after a traumatic few weeks by gardening and with her great-grandson Edward.

However, she is hoping her life can return to normal soon.

Tanya said: “For her to see what’s happening now is utterly heartbreaking.

"She’s on the phone and watching TV constantly and getting updates from her friends about what’s happening back home. She’s worried sick about them.

“She doesn’t know what will happen to her apartment now, she just hopes it doesn’t get destroyed and remains the same to go back to eventually."

"I just want the war to end so I can go home,” Natalia said. "I am missing my home, my garden and my cat.

"I am praying every day that the war ends soon.

"Ukraine is my home and I hope I can return one day."

Natalia added her gratitude to the people of the UK for their love and support.

*Natalia’s words translated into English by Tanya