Belsize Village restaurant hires young Ukrainian refugee

Woman with brown hair in blue shirt behind bar

Calici's new waitress and bartender Anna Kovalkova from Odesa in southern Ukraine. - Credit: Frankie Lister-Fell

A restaurant in Belsize Village has employed its first Ukrainian refugee and hopes to hire more as people fleeing war continue to enter the UK via sponsorship schemes.

Anna Kovalkova is a makeup artist and pharmaceutical student from Odesa, south Ukraine.

After a tumultuous solo journey across Europe, she arrived in London on May 3 and she has just started working at Italian restaurant Calici.

The 23-year-old lives with another young Ukrainian woman, who she met at the airport, with a host family in Hanwell, west London.

Anna's visa was approved last week, meaning she can work and study in the UK for the next three years. 

"When I heard that there were refugees from Ukraine coming I asked a friend of mine who works at the Ukraine Embassy in Holland Park if any of them were looking for work and she sent me Anna’s number," said Bob Stephenson-Padron, founder of Belsize Village Business Association.

"We have a WhatsApp chat of all the businesses here so I asked who’s most desperate for people. Diego (Calici's owner) said he was most desperate so here she is."

Young woman and man in front of modern swanky bar with wine bottles in background

Anna and Bob in Calici restaurant, Belsize Lane. - Credit: Frankie Lister-Fell

While Anna feels "welcomed" in Belsize and by her sponsorship family, she can't forget the struggle that brought her here.

Anna was the first person from her family to leave her home country. She left for Poland by herself just after war started on February 27. She then travelled to Italy where her cousins were staying. 

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"I went first because we needed to know how easy it was to leave Ukraine as my sister has a child, and we were afraid to start with them," Anna said.

She told the Ham&High how Odesa was attacked by Russia on the first day of the war. She saw an explosion from her window.

"We didn't expect it. War started around 4am and the explosion happened at 12pm. My cousin didn't know it had started until I texted him to say 'we're not going on our walk today' after seeing the bomb. A few days later a mall was destroyed," Anna said.

"All my friends and family are all over the world now. My parents and grandparents are still in Odesa. They're doing pretty well; we hope that it will be ok."

Calici's manager Lucia Ursan said: "We’re really excited to help Anna, and I’m very happy she’s here."