Ukrainian settling into UK life with help of Maidenhead café

A Ukrainian woman who fled the war in her home country and now lives in the Royal Borough has thanked the owners of a Maidenhead café who have given her full-time employment.

Olena Hrybenyk, 41, was forced to leave her hometown of Kharkiv in northern Ukraine with her 11-year-old daughter when the Russian invasion began.

The pair made the long journey to the Polish border where their documents were checked, before they boarded a flight to Luton Airport.

A host family from Bray sponsored Olena and her daughter and welcomed them into the UK at the airport three weeks ago.

The pair are now settling into life in the Royal Borough with the help of Rio Deli, the café inside Maidenhead Library in St Ives Road.

Owner Leo Santos served Olena when she visited the establishment with her daughter shortly after landing in the UK, and eventually tracked her down to ask if she would be interested in a job.

The Ukrainian took up the offer and after a trial, was handed a full-time position at the café, where she works five days a week.

Her daughter attends Oldfield Primary School and is also believed to be settling in well with the help of new friends, including another Ukrainian student at the Bray Road school.

Olena told the Advertiser that she is enjoying her new life in the UK but still worries about the situation in her home country, where some of her family remain.

This includes her 20-year-old son who is staying with friends in the west of the country, while her parents and brother are scattered elsewhere in Ukraine.

“It is a terrible situation because all my family are in separate places,” Olena said. “I am nervous about this every time, all day.

“Everybody in Ukraine had everything – good jobs, careers, houses, wages. Now we have nothing.”

Olena – who used to be a children’s doctor in Ukraine – said that despite not having previous experience in the hospitality sector, she is now enjoying her new role.

“I want to say thanks because they [Rio Deli] helped me get a job and after that I have money for the next [part of] my life,” she added.

“I like everything in this shop and I am enjoying this. I have a job, my daughter goes to school, our sponsor family are very nice and care about us.”

Olena said that she has obtained a six-month permit to stay in the UK and hopes to potentially get this extended.

But she said that Ukrainian people cannot plan for their future long term due to the situation in their country, where Russian forces have killed innocent civilians and destroyed landmark buildings.

Olena added that parts of her home city have been obliterated in the war, with Kremlin missiles and fighter jets targeting her city every day since the attacks began.

She is now looking ahead to her life in the UK and enjoys walking her host’s dogs in Bray and taking her daughter swimming at Braywick Leisure Centre.

“I want to say thanks not just to Rio Deli but also to the whole of the UK and the British public, to everybody,” Olena said.

Leo, who also has experience of moving countries to work, added: “Olena is amazing, I could not ask for anyone better. She is already baking cakes and has been excellent.

“She is happy and confident now and it helps her financially. I am glad that I can help her build her life again.”

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