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Determination and perseverance – Olga and Alice’s story

Positive People - Devon 14 October 2022

Olga is in her mid-thirties and earlier this year, she fled to the UK with one suitcase and her cat, Alice. This is her story…


“I grew up and studied in Donetsk area of the Ukraine. I began work in 2008 as a junior in-house lawyer for a big, national natural gas supply company. I worked my way up to become head of contracts for the company.”

After fighting began in the Donbas area (Donetsk and Luhansk) of Ukraine, between pro-Ukrainian volunteers with the Ukrainian army against pro-Russian forces in February 2014, things began to change. This eventually led to the War in Donbas. The environment became more unpredictable and dangerous. Many Ukrainians lost their lives. This was the beginning of the current conflict that is taking place today in Ukraine.

Leaving home

Olga and Alice“By 2017 life in Donetsk was no longer ‘normal’. There was very little employment, and growing uncertainty about the future. Day-to-day life was becoming more dangerous as each week passed. I made the very difficult decision to leave my family and move to Kyiv, to start a new life.”

Olga left with a suitcase and her cat, Alice.

“Life was fairly normal in Kyiv in those days. The state did not recognise the scale of the catastrophe in the east of the country (Donetsk area). There was no support available for migrants coming from other regions of Ukraine. I could only rely on myself.

“Returning to something like a normal life took me more than three years. Three hard years, starting from scratch, away from my home, my family and my friends. Just me and my cat, Alice.”

On the move again

A further invasion of Ukraine by Russia on 24 February (2022) changed everything.

“By this time, I’d been in Kyiv for five years. I’d managed to work hard and secure a good job, as a senior lawyer for a large PR agency. I’d made new friends and was living a normal life.

“I hadn’t seen my parents for several years. The border between mainland Ukraine and the eastern region have been completely closed. There was no chance for me to return home, nor any opportunity to reunite with my family. I’m so grateful to have my cat, Alice. My last remaining connection with home.”

“About two weeks after 24 February, I fled from my (new) home for a second time. Once again, I had to leave everything behind, to reach west Ukraine.”

Olga’s employers helped their staff to move out of Kyiv. They organised for temporary accommodation in west Ukraine. The situation in Ukraine was getting worse and the future was looking more uncertain by the day. Olga applied for a UK visa.

“While waiting for the UK visa, I travelled to Austria. It was becoming too dangerous to stay in the temporary accommodation.”

Olga quoteAustria was a temporary base while Olga waited for her UK visa. It was a more complicated process due to Olga insisting on bringing Alice, her cat, with her. Olga had been through so much with Alice, her constant companion. There was no question of Olga leaving her cat behind.

“I didn’t have chance to get all my belongings or documents when I left to head to Austria. It was dangerous.

“I had to get a new pet passport for Alice. This involved a new rabies injection. Eventually, I received the licence from UK Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). I finally had the documentation I needed to bring my cat with me, to the UK.”

Once the necessary documentation was in place, Olga had to plan her journey from Austria over to the UK.

“First of all, I had to find a person who could take us to the UK. Due to UK restrictions, pet owners must travel with their pets in a car and enter via ferry. We flew from Vienna to Paris, then took a train to Lille, then a ferry from Calais to Dover. I knew that choosing to bring Alice made things much more complicated, but for me, it wasn’t an option.  Life is not about taking the easy path but doing what feels right.”

At the end of May 2022, after two months in Austria, Olga arrived in the UK.

Looking for work

Olga lived with a sponsor family in East Devon. Her first priorities were to open a UK bank account and make an application for Universal Credit. Then, Olga’s focus turned to employment.

Refugees are typically offered low-paid, manual work. Work most people can do.

“I did not want to rely on government support. There were opportunities to take low paid work. I wanted to use my experience to find employment in a legal role.”

Olga was getting support from Exeter Works. They support people and businesses access information relating to jobs and training. Harry, Olga’s contact at Exeter Works, contacted Adam, a Pluss Positive People change coach, to see if they could help Olga. Adam agreed to meet Olga to find out more and to see what support they could offer.

Pluss Positive People

Adam recalled that first meeting. “It was important to gain Olga’s trust. We had a long, initial conversation. I wanted to learn what qualifications and experience she had and what type of work she wanted to do. Pluss use a system called ECCTIS (Education Counselling and Credit Transfer Information Service). This allows us to check a qualification gained overseas and identify what its equal to in the UK. Olga was a contract lawyer in Ukraine, but her qualifications related to Ukraine law, not UK law. It was clear that Olga wanted to use her experience and qualifications to secure a role in a legal setting.”

Olga and AdamWhile Olga’s English is pretty good, it was her third language. Communicating in everyday English can sometimes be a challenge. It will get easier over time. Language is often a barrier for many refugees. This can prevent them from gaining employment and becoming integrated in their community.

Adam did some research. He found that there were two qualifications that Olga would need to take to become a qualified lawyer in the UK. Exeter University offered these courses, which cost around £5,000 each. It made sense for Olga to seek employment in a legal environment. This would help her to gain relevant legal experience, while studying to achieve her longer-term aim of becoming a qualified lawyer in the UK.

Adam helped Olga to re-write her CV, so it was suitable for the UK. Then followed some interview training. It was quite a challenge for Olga to put her best self forward, while speaking in her third language.

“Adam helped me to write a CV suitable for the UK. They are a bit different in Ukraine. He showed me how to focus on my strengths and tailor it to specific employers.

“Adam would always phone me before and after each interview. He wanted to check to see I’d visited their company website, how I was feeling and how I felt it went. This was valuable experience.”

This helped Olga feel more prepared and confident about future job interviews.


Over a six-to-eight-week period, Olga took part in several first and second interviews. Some face-to-face and others on the phone. Olga’s determination shone through. Not put off by being unsuccessful, Olga kept applying for jobs. The more interviews Olga did, the more she learnt about the process. Through feedback and conversations with Adam, her confidence grew.

That perseverance paid off. Olga had a job interview with Gilbert Stephens Solicitors, a commercial property law firm in Exeter. They called the next day to say she had been successful and she began her new role as a paralegal in early August.

Olga is now focused on becoming a qualified solicitor in the UK. She will need to study and work hard, to one day pass the professional examinations required.

Olga is optimistic about her profession but still faces other challenges. Her next big hurdle to address is finding somewhere to live in or around the Exeter area. Her temporary accommodation ends very soon. While far from straightforward, we know Olga is as determined as ever to find a solution.

Pluss and Seetec Pluss (both part of the wider Seetec Group) provide a range of support services for refugees. We are currently delivering a number of contracts that help people move closer to, and into employment. This includes providing support across more than one contract if deemed appropriate. If you, or someone you know would like to find out more about what support might be available, please email and providing a brief outline of  circumstances.

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