Borders couple rescue Ukrainian family

A Borders couple have given a Ukrainian family a peaceful sky above their heads by offering their holiday home in Bulgaria.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 15th March 2022, 5:03 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th March 2022, 5:06 pm
The boys play in the snow at the house in Bulgaria.
The boys play in the snow at the house in Bulgaria.

John Dodds and Carole Gascoigne from Ettrickbridge, have not only put a roof over the heads of refugees, they are fundraising to help the family financially.

As the war raged above the ground, in a bunker just north of Kyiv, grandmother Galia, her daughter, Olya, and her two sons Nail (10) and Vladislav (5), feared for their lives with their city under siege from the Russian military.

But their plight reached a family in the Borders, who have saved them from the devastating war.

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The Ukrainian family were torn in two, as Galia said goodbye to her 65-year-old husband, and 20-year-old grandson, who stayed to fight for their country.

Seeing the plight of the Ukrainian people, John and Carole registered on sites across social media to offer a family their home in Bulgaria.

"There is one site in Bulgaria that link people to homes,” said Carole. “Initially, a young Ukrainian woman, Alexandra, who lives in Bulgaria, contacted me because she was trying to get her family out. I gave her details of our holiday house, but she was offered a house closer to where she lived, so that was a great outcome.”

However, Alexandra put out a call to other families in Ukraine, to say there was a house available – which reached Galia and her family.

The family had to flee Ukraine, but male members are staying to fight.

The process of evacuating itself was not easy amid the relentless shelling.

Carole described the nightmare the family endured before making it across the Border safely.

“They were right in the heart of it all. It was pretty horrible. It was like being there in the war seeing it through Galia’s eyes.”

Crammed train stations showed the bleak reality of millions trying to flee as the Russian bombs and street fighting grew nearer.

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"The trains were crammed full and there was no way out for the family,” said Carole. “But luckily, Galia heard about a minibus that could transport them.

"They endured a night of bombing and sirens. They were frightened, couldn’t sleep and they didn’t know what to do.”

However, the family boarded the bus with only the clothes on their back and what they could carry, and set off on a gruelling 24 hour drive to Lviv.

At points, John and Carole didn’t know if the family were dead or alive.

“We set up a Facebook group chat to communicate. It was a bit harrowing because we lost contact with Galia a few times and we were praying nothing had happened to them.”

With the little money the family had, they got a taxi to the border.

Carole said: “Friends of ours in Bulgaria drove for four hours to collect them and take them to our house.”

And, in a little village way up in the snowy mountains of Balkan National Park, this Ukrainian family found safety.

Carole says the community really “stepped up to the plate” when it came to making sure the family were looked after.

"It’s -15 in the mountains at night.

“The family were freezing on the night they arrived, but we managed to get the central heating going for them.

"They are so settled, and we keep in touch every day.

"The community in Bulgaria have been so kind.

"The little boy only had trainers on which were leaking and he had cold wet feet. A neighbour bought socks, trainers and slippers for him. It really is just the little things that matter.”

The worry now isn’t safety, it’s survival.

“They have no money,” says Carole. “We are raising funds to get them food and to pay for ongoing bills, like heating.

“We’ve put wifi in for them because it’s really important emotionally that they have contact with their family and friends.”

The kind-hearted couple describe their act of humanity as healing.

"We’re not constantly seeing all the distressing images, and it’s nice to see photos and hear how well the family are doing,” added Carole.

“Galia is so resilient. Her husband is 65 years old and stayed behind to fight for his country. Her grandson, who is 20-years-old, is at the border with a gun to protect his country.

"I cannot imagine what that must feel like. And she has hope. She is hoping to go back to her country.”

And that comes across in the haunting words of Galia, who says her grandchildren are now terrified by the chilling sound of sirens and bombs.

She says that strangers have now become family. That war has shown her how the simple things in life, turned out to be the most valuable, like the peaceful sky above her head.

And thanks to the Borders couple who rescued this Ukrainian family as the war rages on, Galia sums it up beautifully when she says – “here, there is hope.”

If you would like to help Galia and her family, you can donate to the JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/carole-gascoigne?utm_id=2&utm_term=JwW8davWM