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Rediscovering hope after hardship: a Ukrainian family’s story

Boiko Family

Creating thriving Community spaces where people can feel welcome and safe is at the core of what we do. 

It’s always very moving to hear stories of how Customers are impacted by the opportunities provided by our Places Leisure team, and the story of the Boiko family is certainly no exception.

Having fled Ukraine due to the ongoing conflict and fear for their lives, Yaroslav Boiko and his family (Olga, Tetiana, Denys and Mariia) found a supportive Community in Gosport Leisure Centre who helped them overcome their trauma and rediscover happiness.

Here is their story, in Yaroslav’s own words:

“We are an ordinary Ukrainian family of four people, who were forced to flee from Kyiv in 2022 to protect the lives and health of our children. Like in many other Ukrainian families, the onset of hostilities, constant rocket explosions, shattered windows, bullet-riddled cars, destroyed homes, and general panic left an indelible mark on our children's psyche. 

“Our daughter Mariia suffered the most in our family; she just turned eight years old at the beginning of the war. We used to live on the 25th floor of a new elite high-rise building in Kyiv, with huge panoramic windows and a beautiful view of the entire city, making our apartment a noticeable target for enemy attacks. 

“Almost every night from late February to early March 2022, as soon as we heard passing helicopters or planes, we would jump to the floor from our beds and pull our children down with us. During this period, the Russians attempted to encircle Kyiv. The stress Mariia endured caused her to stop speaking, and at that moment we made the decision that we had to leave Ukraine." 

Searching for normality in a new Community

“We sought help from anyone to return our daughter to a normal life; she had constant helpers at school and was regularly seen by several psychologists, but she still refused to interact with people, completely withdrawing into herself, not wanting to see anyone, and constantly hiding in her room. We were advised to find something that could distract her, so we decided to take her swimming since she loved it before the war. 

“How happy we were, and how long my wife cried when on literally the second or third visit to the Gosport Leisure Centre pool, our daughter started smiling again and playing with us in the water. It's hard to put into words the happiness we felt at that moment. It was the end of 2022."

Boiko Family Dad Son
Boiko Mum Swimming

“Then came the harsh winter of 2023, with massive Russian attacks on Ukraine's power grid and prolonged power blackout in our native Kyiv. My mother, who was 76 at the time and who had refused to leave Ukraine with us in 2022, remained in Kyiv in a multi-story building. Due to the lack of electricity in Kyiv, we couldn't reach her by phone for several days again and again; she had no heating and no running water. At her age, it was practically impossible for her to leave the house without the help of an elevator and go to the store for the essentials. So, we made the decision to evacuate her to England. 

“When I went to get her, instead of the sweet woman she was before the war, I saw a frail, broken, and helpless old lady. But I already knew what to do, and on the second day after arriving in England, I took her to the Gosport Leisure Centre pool. Since then, she has been visiting the pool 2-3 times a week and looks much better and younger than she did before."

Finding a support network and somewhere that feels like home

“This is just one story of one ordinary Ukrainian family that you helped. I am more than sure that within the walls of Gosport Leisure Centre, as well as other Places Leisure centres, many Ukrainian children, women, and families were able to restore their psychological, mental, and physical health. And I am infinitely grateful to you for that. 

“Gosport Leisure Centre has become our second home. With excellent facilities, wonderful services, and, of course, professional, and responsive staff. All the employees of the centre are very friendly and professional; at the same time, we would especially like to thank Mrs. Davinia Leaver and Mr. Pele Bevu for their incredible customer service and Places Leisure for this incredible gift you gave for all Ukrainians. I would like to assure you that you have made a remarkable difference to our lives.”

Boiko Reception

After hearing how the Boikos found a Community that means so much to them, welcomed them and provided the space to not just recover, but thrive, we spoke to Danielle Bingham, Placemaker Manager at Gosport Leisure Centre, to get the team’s thoughts. 

“To receive a letter from Yaroslav, made our team feel very touched. Having two team members mentioned, made me feel very proud of them, it makes us feel appreciated, and that we are really helping the Community. It’s a magical moment reading this story. We have helped them mentally and physically, living up to our values of One Community.” 

Read more heart-warming stories from our Customers and People

We hope you found this story inspirational. If you would like to read more stories from around the Places for People organisation, check out more of our In My Own Words stories.  

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