Both my love to Ukraine and my love to England are what’s filling up my heart

We spoke with Maria and Sergei, a Ukrainian couple in Bedford, about their lives in Ukraine and their new communities in England.


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© Anastasiia Makhmutova

My name is Maria and my husband’s name is Sergei. We are from Mykolaiv, Ukraine, which is a state near Odessa. We moved to Bedford, UK in 2022 with our three wonderful children.  

Our lives in Ukraine were interesting, blessed and beautiful. I spent my time creating art. Sergei and I had our own studio where we worked with both adults and kids. Ukrainians are incredibly talented, gifted and wonderful people.  

We also had an artist society which artists from all over the world came to. Together, we organised art exhibitions both locally and across the nation. We hosted exhibitions in all the cities of Ukraine, but Lviv has a special place in our hearts.  

Lviv is a very old city in Ukraine and, in a distant way, resembles York. It is the city where my husband and I met 24 years ago. The story of how we met is quite a fairytale.  

At the time, I was studying at Lviv Academy of Arts. It just so happened that my husband was sent to Lviv on a three-day business trip. While he was there, he took a guided tour of a Catholic Church. I was in the church at the time and when he saw me, he fell in love instantly.  

We dated in Lviv for two years before getting married.  

© Anastasiia Makhmutova

After conflict broke out in Ukraine, we decided to move to the United Kingdom.  

In England, I’ve had new opportunities which inspire me and give me joy and life. For example, learning and being able to practise speaking English has been a wonderful experience. I also enjoy learning about the culture and beauty of England.  

I volunteer as an art teacher in a school, where I prepare paints and materials for the children’s artwork. This is what I truly love. Through this, I’ve had a chance to admire the wonders of English education.  

Perhaps most of all, I am glad that I can continue my art in England. I’ve had my own artwork exhibition in British Parliament, and I have several more art exhibitions in different cities across the UK. Now, my husband and I are travelling and participating in all sorts of art festivals in different places around the country.  

I have a strong desire to become a blessing for this country. It is really exciting and gives me the strength and energy to go on.   

© Anastasiia Makhmutova

I’m Sergei, Maria’s husband. I’m responsible for the administrative, financial and organisational aspects of the work while Maria takes care of the artistic side of things. I think together we are an amazing team.  

We are Christians and in everything we do, we see God’s blessing, in how our family business is growing and how we actually get those connections.  

For example, we recently hosted an exhibition in Liverpool. The exhibition wasn’t accidental, but it wasn’t planned long beforehand either – it just happened. Maria and I were staying at a hotel in Liverpool for business. We told one of the hotel staff we were Ukrainian during a friendly chat, and he asked us if we wanted to participate in an exhibition at one of his friend’s galleries. This is how we see God’s guidance in everything that happens with us and our art.  

Since Maria and I arrived in the UK, we’ve been doing a lot of charity and volunteer work as a form of giving back for what England has done for us.   

This is one of the ways we’ve gotten to know people around us. Through that, the media took an interest in our work and newspapers, websites and other outlets started publishing information about us. After the media started writing about us, we began to get new contacts. People would reach out to collaborate or suggest projects.   

This is how the word has spread and this is how we see God working and being in our lives.   

© Anastasiia Makhmutova

Sergei and I have had an absolutely positive experience living here in England. We feel well taken care of, nicely treated and see how much people care about us here.  

Find out more about Maria’s art on Instagram at Art sсhool Tsymbal

Read about how UNHCR supports refugees and internally displaced people in Ukraine here


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