Mariia Kushch

My story is one of remarkable tenacity, it encapsulates the power and essence of the Ukrainian spirit.

I come from the city of Sumy, which is situated East of Kyiv very close to the Russian border. A few months before the war, I and my family moved to a village, just outside Kyiv. As it turned out, that put them directly in the path of the war. On February 24th, 2022, air battles started to rage in the skies above my home. We spent 4 days in the cellar sheltering from bombs when we realised that the Russian army was targeting a nearby dam. We now had no choice but to try to escape by car. While trying to find a way out, we saw helicopter battles over the water of the dam and heard the explosions of bridges being destroyed by the Ukrainian army to slow down the Russian advance.

The initial plan was to drive to the Western Ukraine and cross to Poland, but this proved impossible as the roads we were driving on were bombed around them. We also were struggling to find medical help as my 7-year-old son, Severyn, had a broken jaw. However, eventually we successfully crossed to Romania and then to France where a friend was able to help us for a few months and assist with medical help. I knew someone who could put our family in touch with a potential host in the UK, and that is how we came to Buckinghamshire.

As a mother, I have experienced first-hand the emotional toll imposed by the war on the children. As a film director, I knew that there is no better way to highlight the plight of the Ukrainian refugee children than making a documentary.

As a mother, I have experienced first-hand the emotional toll imposed by the war on the children.

The new reality was so different from our life back in Ukraine. I always had a passion for filming. Whilst attending University I decided that filmography was to be my career of choice. I was a Director and Producer of a number of films. I created a YouTube channel to showcase the extraordinary skills of Ukrainian stuntman and stuntwomen. At the time very little was professionally produced about our work, so the channel created opportunities to build connections with international organisations culminating in collaborations with Showtime Entertainment Group and with Disney Studios.

The first few months in the UK were extremely tough: Severyn was too young to go to school in Ukraine, but in the UK he had to join a year 2 class. I had to find jobs and move into our own accommodation, despite landlords being reluctant to let in Ukrainian refugees. We were struggling with adapting to new social situation, was extremely short of money and lacking a sense of identity. At one point, we had nowhere to spend the night so a kind stranger we met on the street that day gave us a roof over our heads. Eventually we settled in Berkhamstead and I and my husband found jobs in the film industry, but the sense of loss and isolation was still weighing very heavily over the family.

By chance in January 2023, I discovered the Hilltops Ukrainian Support Community. Through the Community I got to know other Ukrainians who were also struggling to overcome the practical hurdles of integration, and observed how the new Ukrainian identity of those fleeing the war was being created. As a film director, I saw a story that was begging to be told.

As a mother, I have experienced first-hand the emotional toll imposed by the war on the children. As a film director, I knew that there is no better way to highlight the plight of the Ukrainian refugee children than making a documentary. I want to give the children a chance to speak so that everyone can listen. Thus “Voices” was born.

The Ukrainian community rallied behind the film, and it went viral. It was even screened in the UK Parliament on the 2nd anniversary of the war to demonstrate the resilience and determination of the Ukrainian children and also to raise awareness of the difficult journey that still lies ahead for the many Ukrainian refugees.

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