Downloading an air raid alert app isn’t a normal part of your pre-holiday checklist – but for Ukrainian refugee Olena Vasylevska, it was one of the first steps to take before flying home to visit her family.

Olena Vasylevska arrived in Felixstowe in April after a turbulent year that saw her escape missile attacks near her home in Kyiv before finding refuge in countries across Europe.

The fear of hearing those sirens once again and witnessing the scars of war had stopped her from visiting her homeland – but the heartache of not seeing her family finally became too much in September.

“I never thought I would go back before the war ends,” she said.

“I had nightmares of rockets falling and trying to find somewhere to hide with my family. I never considered going to Kyiv.

East Anglian Daily Times: Olena with her brother, OleksiyOlena with her brother, Oleksiy (Image: Olena Vasylevska)

“It had crossed my mind that I could visit the western part of the country, which is far from the frontline – so I booked flights for a trip in September.

“I had originally planned for my family to meet me there, but my mother had to cancel because of health problems. But I was still unsure about going to Kyiv to see her and my brother.

“As the trip grew closer, I began to realise how much I really miss them. That I just really wanted to see my home.

“I booked a train to Kyiv and immediately felt a sense of relief.”

Olena flew to Kosice in western Slovakia before boarding a bus across the border, where her 13-hour train to the capital awaited.

East Anglian Daily Times: Olena with members of her family in UkraineOlena with members of her family in Ukraine (Image: Olena Vasylevska)

“Hearing people speaking in Ukrainian, I immediately felt at home,” she said. “Everyone travelling was supporting one another and it made you feel so much stronger and confident.

“I started seeing all the signs for shops that I hadn’t seen in over a year. The world had felt broken, but in that moment everything felt whole again.

“You don’t realise how much you miss the small things.”

While her city thankfully did not bear the scars she had expected, it was not the same Kyiv she had remembered. But one thing that hadn’t changed was the warmth of her family.

“My mum was waiting for me at the platform, which I wasn’t expecting,” she said. “I felt so happy to see her.

“This trip was the first chance I had to see my brother since the war. We have Facetimed, but it just isn’t the same. It was so nice to see everyone and be a family again.

“The city was much more quiet and there are a lot of military checkpoints. You can tell that so many people have left.

“So much of the damage has been reconstructed and I was assured that our new air defence systems would keep us safe. It made me feel more comfortable, but I said I would stick to the rules about safe places to hide if there was an alarm.

“There were two raids during my visit, one was just before we were due to visit our summer house with my brother and his children. I ran to hide in the hallway, but they were completely unfazed.

“There was another during the night, but like everyone else I stayed in bed and tried not to think about it.”

Olena’s four-day trip ended following her stay at the family summer house on the outskirts of Kyiv.

She added: “You have to adapt yourself to a new reality, but you know that whatever has changed, it is and always will be home.

East Anglian Daily Times: Olena moved to Felixstowe last yearOlena moved to Felixstowe last year (Image: Olena Vasylevska)

“When I first left Ukraine, I was escaping. I was heading into the unknown. But leaving there this time, I knew I was coming to a place that has become my home from home.

“A place where people care for me and have made me feel so loved. I knew I had nothing to be scared about.

“Ukraine will always be my home and I hope to one day be back soon.”

Two days after she returned to Suffolk, Kyiv was once again subject to a coordinated Russian missile attack that injured 18 people.

Olena has now returned to work at marketing agency Prominent PR in Felixstowe and continues to be supported by her host family in the town.