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'I close my eyes and see the streets of my town'

When war came to Ukraine a year ago, Iryna Oliynyk turned to her family in Greater Manchester for refuge.

Like thousands of others, she packed her bags and fled the Russian bombardment with her teenage son and mother.

Iryna arrived at her cousin's home in Salford from Ternopil in the west of Ukraine last year.

She is now renting accommodation and has secured work through United for Ukraine.

The initiative, established by a group of North West business leaders, aims to connect Ukrainian refugees with high-quality employment, training opportunities and support services.

So far more than 1,000 Ukrainians have been given access to support and more than 170 jobs have been created.

"It's truly the best thing that has happened to me over this past year," Iryna told the BBC.

The 42-year-old, who now works for Manchester-based charity Europia, recently lost her husband, who stayed in eastern Europe, to ill health.

"I've gone through a long process of bereavement, so when I was offered this job, I felt really happy as I started filling my life with something meaningful", she said.

Iryna said leaving her native Ukraine was "one of the toughest decisions" she has ever made, but had to make it for the sake of her son, Anton.

He was 17 when the war started and wanted to finish his education, Iryna said.

"My intention was to help him get a good profession so that he could contribute and that our country could benefit from his skills and his knowledge," she said.

"But that was a very hard decision. I know that a lot of kids stayed in the country."

Asked whether she planned to make Greater Manchester her permanent home, she replied: "It's hard to say at the moment, because my home is where my heart is and my heart is still in Ukraine.

"I close my eyes and I see the streets of my town and I imagine and I see all my friends who stayed there.

"I do like having this attachment to Greater Manchester and it strengthens with every day especially now I have my job, but I cannot think that far ahead."

Marianna Vaszilyiv, who co-founded United for Ukraine, said: "We were once in the shoes of those people arriving now, we know what it's like to start your life from scratch in a different country with a totally new language for some of them.

"So that's why we are here to help and I'm really happy that we can change someone's life."

With no end of the conflict in sight a year after the Russian invasion began, the initiative continues to play a vital role in supporting the integration of Ukrainian refugees in the North West.

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