A seven-year-old Ukrainian figure skater who fled the war to live with a host family in Bristol has returned home.
Gosha Mandziuk and his mother Iryna arrived in the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme in April 2022.
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After appearing on Sky News, Dancing On Ice star Matt Evers reached out to help train Gosha, who competes nationally back home and was also part of an ice hockey team
Now he and Iryna have made the tough decision to return to Kyiv.
“We are happy, we enjoy being at home, even during these hard and difficult times,” Iryna said.
“For us exactly, this is the right decision. Because Gosha was crying, sometimes depressed, because he was separated from his father.
“He was worrying when he would see him again, maybe he would already be an adult – so it made him sad.
“When we arrived it took us, me, maybe more than a month to adapt. It sounds strange, but I really needed time to adapt again in my house, in my home, because we had so many changes.
“The city looked a little depressed, you can tell war is in the air.”
Image: The seven-year-old competes nationally back home ‘They are part of us now’
Despite having to cope with the threat of missiles and frequent power cuts, Gosha has managed to resume a full training schedule at his local ice rink.
Iryna said: “We are in a normal regime now – we train three to five full days per week. Usually three lessons per day.
“Very soon [after returning] we were already in the skating rink with all our coaches and a big team, and we started step by step, slow at first. It was difficult because it was a long break.”
The pair spent four months living with their host family in Bristol, and say they continue to stay in touch.
“I think they are part of us now, not like friends,” said Iryna.
“When I think about them or we communicate in messenger, it’s like relatives. Like aunts or uncles.”
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Iryna says she hopes they can return to England under different circumstances.
“We would like to come like tourists,” she said.
“I would like to see them in Kiev if we have peace, and they would like to come, as I know they like travelling a lot. Gosha wants to go again in the summer.”
Although relieved to be back with family, Iryna admits life in the capital can be difficult.
“We understood the risk,” she said. “When we returned now the risk is higher. Is it our decision. Some people cannot live in such conditions, such fear, such anxiety.
“I really don’t want to go anywhere. We live, not in fear, but all the time, anxiety. The level of anxiety is rather high. But I don’t have energy to go somewhere because it’s also difficult, and you need energy for this.
“At home, we are calm because we are all together.”