Ukrainian refugees in Brighton have told how they faced the harsh reality of spending Christmas away from their loved ones.

Before Russia invaded their country in February, they could never have dreamed they would be forced to spend months apart from their families.

Some of the refugees have told The Argus how tough it was to spend the festive season here while their relatives feared being attacked.

The Argus: Maryna and her son DavydMaryna and her son Davyd (Image: Maryna Zahorodniuk)

‘My husband bought him a present and showed it to him over the phone’

Maryna Zahorodniuk, who moved to Brighton in April with her five-year-old son Davyd, said she was distraught at being away from her husband Andrii, who is a soldier stationed in the West of Ukraine.

While there is less fighting in the west of the country, Maryna, 37, said the separation has been tough on her and her son.

She said: “It’s really difficult, we can speak on Whatsapp and things like that but we miss him.

“Almost every day my son asks me about him, he always asks him about presents and things like that. My husband bought him a present and he showed it to him over the phone.

"I will buy him a present and try and send it to Ukraine.”

Maryna, who is working in a school, said she would buy Davyd a present and tell him that it was from his dad.

The Argus: Andrii, left, with DavydAndrii, left, with Davyd (Image: Maryna Zahorodniuk)

She was planning to try to visit some of her Ukrainian friends who also fled to the UK under the Homes For Ukraine scheme.

She said in previous years “when we celebrated Christmas we always gathered together and we had festive dishes and some traditions”.

Maryna feared her husband would not get a chance to celebrate the holiday at all. She said Russian attacks often intensify around traditional holidays and, on a recent day celebrating the armed forces, Andrii had to keep working due to the threat of a Russian strike.

‘We are not in a festive mood’

Katya Zerova, 38, moved to Hove after fleeing Kyiv at the beginning of the war. Now living with her parents and children, she said it had been difficult to be festive when her family and friends were suffering.

She said: “We don’t actually feel really festive at the moment because the people in Ukraine live without electricity and water.

“It is hard every day when you hear the news. It is hard to realise what is happening to our city.”

After moving to Hove with her five-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter, Katya, a photographer, was soon followed by her parents, Galina and Yuriy.

The Argus: Katya, right, with her parents Galina, centre, and Yuriy, right, as well as her children, frontKatya, right, with her parents Galina, centre, and Yuriy, right, as well as her children, front (Image: Katya Zerova)

Katya and her family were also housed with a host couple under the Homes For Ukraine scheme and she said they were “like grandma and grandpa” to her children.

She said: “We found a wonderful family and with their help staying here was so easy.”

Despite the struggle and the fear for those still living in Kyiv, they had an English Christmas celebration “for the children”.

While some do still celebrate on December 25, many Ukrainians celebrate Orthodox Christmas which begins on January 6.

As well as families holding their own celebrations, Ukrainian refugees have been coming together to celebrate and to raise money to help buy generators for the people of Kharkiv.

Fundraising group Stand For Ukraine held a community event at All Saints Church on Saturday, December 17, as well as serving mulled wine at the Hove beach huts open day.

The Argus: Ukrainian refugeesUkrainian refugees (Image: PA)

Iryna Olyanovska, 56, one of the founding members of Brighton’s Stand For Ukraine group, has been organising a series of festive events for people in the community.

She said: “It’s important for kids to have a glimpse of a normal Christmas that is for joy because life is hard. It’s nice to have a break sometimes.

“It should be a festive time but lots of people in Ukraine are struggling. It’s really breaking our hearts.It’s really hard to fathom how this could have happened.”

Those wishing to donate to the cause can do so via Stand For Ukraine’s JustGiving page.