Iryna Ostapenko admits she was terrified at first of seeking refuge in a foreign country she didn't know.

She'd seen images of fellow Ukrainians who, following the Russian invasion a year ago, had crossed the border into Poland with nothing but backpacks on their shoulders.

Yes, they were at least somewhere where they would be safe, she said. But you could see from looking at them that they felt lost, and didn't know where to turn.

So when it came her turn to seek refuge, she was afraid.

But from the moment the 27-year-old was accepted on the UK's Homes for Ukraine scheme, those fears were allayed.

She knew where she would be going, she knew there would be a host family to look after her. "Everything was arranged!" she said.

Iryna, who taught English for business purposes in her home country, arrived in York last May to stay with a host family - mum, dad and teenaged daughter - in Acomb. And they have been 'amazing', Iryna says.

She misses her own parents, of course - mum and dad Liudmyla and Anatoliiy, who live near Kyiv, and sister Olha who, after initially fleeing to Slovakia, returned to Ukraine to be with her husband.

York Press:

But her hosts quickly became like a surrogate family.

"They gave me the feeling of family," she said. "We watched TV together, had dinner together, I cooked Ukrainian food for them."

Her surrogate 'mum', who works in HR, even managed to help her get a job, as an IT coordinator for a Leeds firms helping to develop telemedicine systems for Ukraine.

She has kept in touch with her hosts, even though she has now moved out of their home to a rented flat just five minutes way from them in Acomb.

She regularly goes to them for advice - and they have been able to explain to her some of the strange things that British people do - such as wrapping Christmas presents.

"Why does everyone in England wrap Christmas presents?" she asked. "And why, when someone says 'all right?' to you, are you not supposed to answer 'all right!'?"

Iryna, who first fled to Slovakia with her sister before coming to the UK when her sister returned to Ukraine, cannot speak too highly of the way the British people have supported her and her fellow Ukrainians.

Countries bordering Ukraine such as Poland had little choice but to accept refugees, she says. "The UK didn't have to do anything - but they did! And Boris Johnson was the first (foreign leader) to come to Ukraine. I am so grateful to the British people!"

York Press: Party girl: Iryna, centre, with friends before the Russian invasionParty girl: Iryna, centre, with friends before the Russian invasion (Image: Iryna Ostapenko)

She said she ultimately hopes to return to her home country - she doesn't want to be part of a 'brain drain'. "I want to go back to Ukraine, to work in medicine, to develop something."

But, with all the talk of a Russian 'spring offensive' around the time of the anniversary of the invasion, she doesn't know when that will be.

She can barely contain her fury at what Russia has done.

"There are good people in Russia, in our heads we understand that," she said. "But we cannot accept it in our hearts. It was not Putin who raped children or killed innocent people. It was just people from Russia. We hate them all with our hearts."