Ukrainian refugee Nataliia settles into new life in Aberdeen

Ukrainian refugee Nataliia settles into new life in Aberdeen

A Ukrainian refugee forced to leave her home and job in Kharkiv has found a new life in Aberdeen – and she prays for those still caught up in the war in her homeland.

Prior to the war, Nataliia Zaplitna worked for a large sewing factory which manufactured clothing, hats and other fashion items.

Members of her immediate family have died as a result of the war, and many months on Nataliia finds it too traumatic to speak about their loss. 

Nataliia has now found employment as a seamstress and tape edger with not-for-profit social enterprise Glencraft, which supports visually impaired and other disadvantaged people with dignity through work as it makes mattresses and other soft furnishing products at its facility on Whitemyres Avenue in Mastrick, Aberdeen.

Nataliia, 39, said: “The war has changed my life forever. My world is not the same as it was before.

“In Kharkiv, I had a settled life. I had a job I enjoyed. Everything was great. On the 24th of February last year, I heard a loud explosion which caused all of my life to disappear.

“It was a very stressful experience leaving Ukraine. I still find it incredibly difficult to speak about the loss of those close to me.

“It was too dangerous for me to stay so I decided I had to leave, as did many others.”

After making a 2,500-mile journey from Kharkiv, near the Russian border, Natalia now lives in student accommodation in Aberdeen’s city centre.

Nataliia’s journey involved a bus from Kharkiv to Poland where she stayed for two weeks at a refugee centre for asylum seekers. Once a visa was issued, she took a flight from Gdańsk in Poland to Edinburgh and then a bus onwards to Aberdeen. Nataliia spent six months in a hotel in the city before being transferred to the student accommodation.

Nataliia said: “I like everything about Aberdeen, in particular the architecture. Many of the buildings look like something from fairy tales to me. I also like that Aberdeen is located at the coast.”

When Nataliia first arrived in Aberdeen, she asked a local interpreter if he was aware of any local jobs. The interpreter advised about a job vacancy at Glencraft and helped Nataliia to arrange the interview.

Glencraft was hiring for a seamstress and tape edger at the time and was struggling to fill the position locally. Nataliia had exactly the desired skillset and experience that the social enterprise was looking for.

Donald MacKay, managing director at Glencraft, said: “For almost 180 years, Glencraft has provided dignity through work for those in Aberdeen with visual impairment and other barriers to work. We had been struggling for some months to fill a role for an experienced tape edger, and we saw that with Nataliia we could fill a gap in our own team while bringing some stability and routine to her at a difficult moment in her life. Her experience and knowledge has been a great help to Glencraft and I believe that the support and affection she has had from our own team have been a help to her.”

Nataliia has been working with Glencraft now for almost four months. She said: “I believe I am very lucky to do the job I know and love here in Aberdeen – especially within my area of expertise. I’m happy I have the opportunity to continue working within the same role and industry.

“I also love the people here at Glencraft. Everyone is very friendly, approachable and eager to communicate despite the language barrier. They make me feel welcome and are also helping me to learn English.”

Nataliia remains in contact with her brother – who is unable to leave Ukraine due to the male travel ban – and friends in Ukraine on a daily basis. She said: “They say that life in Ukraine is very hard because of the war and winter has added further difficulties. There is almost nothing good to mention. Nobody knows when the war will end, but everyone I talk to in Ukraine has a hope that soon we will have peace again.

“I feel very thankful to all the individuals and the government in Scotland for all the help, support and assistance that I and many others have received. On behalf of all Ukrainians, I would like to say a big thank you to Scotland.

“My message to other Ukrainians who have been placed in Scotland is to not lose hope. It is possible to find meaningful employment and there is much opportunity in Scotland to settle. One day I will return to Ukraine but those thoughts are put to one side. They are for a different time.”

Nataliia is one of over 20,000 displaced Ukrainians currently living in Scotland. She has found Aberdeen’s Ukrainian Hub, which she attends twice a week, a huge support. The hub, run by Aberdeen City Council, offers Nataliia the opportunity to socialise, meet other Ukrainians and also take part in language courses to learn English.

Glencraft was granted a Royal Warrant by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and has supplied four generations of the Royal family. The social enterprise has also won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Promoting Opportunity (through social mobility) in 2021, recognising its commitment to supporting people from under-represented groups.

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