Your Stories: Ukrainian former travel agent Olga Matveiuk explains how her life has changed
Foreign exchange specialist at the Monmouth branch of Miles Morgan Travel, Olga Matveiuk, explains how her life has changed since leaving war-torn Ukraine. By Juliet Dennis.
Q. What was life like as a travel agent in Ukraine?
A. I was living and working in Kyiv when, on February 24, 2022, the invasion by Russian troops began. They came to capture the city and establish their pro‑Russian government there. Since 2009, I had been the marketing director at one of Ukraine’s established travel agency and tour operator firms, Artex94. The company grew in scale, including the development of new technology and booking systems. We implemented our own consolidating system for booking hotels around the world, a product that was used by all the largest travel agencies in the Ukraine, and we took part in international exhibitions, held workshops, roadshows and won awards. We offered holidays in more than 100 countries. I also personally led sightseeing tours to Turkey, Egypt, Scandinavia and the Baltics. My regular customers, who flew all over the world, still contact me from time to time. Many of them live in Europe, Canada and the US.
Since 2009, I had been the marketing director at one of Ukraine’s established travel agency and tour operator firms, Artex94
Q. How did you end up in the UK?
A. I came here with my daughter Maria in July 2022. In the Ukraine at the time, there was only the unknown and the will to survive. The desire to leave became stronger during the first weeks of invasion. At first we wanted to leave Kyiv and move to Ukraine’s western borders, to get away from rocket explosions and death. But when, with a terrible roar and a shower of sparks, part of a rocket fell 30 metres away from the train we were on, our decision became final. We decided to leave the Ukraine, like millions of our fellow citizens in those days. It would be scary to return to Kyiv now – our beautiful life in our home has been completely destroyed, and everything we had is gone.
It would be scary to return to Kyiv now – our beautiful life in our home has been completely destroyed, and everything we had is gone
Q. What work have you done in the UK?
A. I am also an artist and I paint using oils and acrylics. In the past I have taken part in international exhibitions and won awards for my work. The Artists in Exile organisation helped us to come here. A touring art exhibition in Britain was planned and participation in international exhibitions, so I initially focused on painting, putting my work in galleries and sending it to exhibitions. I love painting very much – art brings peace to my soul. I am a writer as well and have been planning to translate my stories so I can publish them in the UK. But tourism is also my love and a calling of the soul. I met [Miles Morgan Travel owner] Miles by chance at an agricultural show in the summer, and after talking with him and hearing his kind offer, decided to return to tourism.
I met Miles by chance at an agricultural show in the summer, and after talking with him and hearing his kind offer, decided to return to tourism
Q. What has it been like working in travel again?
A.I started working at Miles Morgan Travel in September 2022. I really like this company, which, like one big family, has accepted me. It’s as if I have always worked here and I feel very comfortable. I like the work and communicating daily with my colleagues – they help me a lot. I’m working on the foreign exchange counter at Monmouth, and I help my colleagues as well. Perhaps in the future I will be able to expand the range of my duties if that would be useful for the company.
I really like this company, which, like one big family, has accepted me. It’s as if I have always worked here and I feel very comfortable
Q. How does being a UK travel agent compare to being an agent in Ukraine?
A. The role of a travel agent is very similar in Ukraine, although there are differences in the specific details, mentality, booking systems and people’s habits. However, as in Ukraine, here in Britain people travel a lot. They love comfort and reliability, which is what Miles Morgan Travel gives them as a reputable travel company with a range of services. Apart from national holidays, people tend to book very similar trips. I believe tourism has been around for as long as humanity has existed. Tourism has no borders and no nationality.
The role of an agent is very similar in Ukraine, although there are differences in the specific details, mentality, booking systems and people’s habits
How is life in the UK and what does the future hold?
The language barrier doesn’t really bother me. In fact, sometimes I forget I’m in Britain and feel like I’m back in Kyiv. The biggest problem is finding accommodation, but I hope to solve that. Britain has welcomed us very warmly. People here are incredibly kind and polite, and always ready to help. At first it was difficult because we hadn’t planned to change our lives so drastically, but it’s easier now because we have many acquaintances and friends in this country.
When people ask me about the future, I think back to February 23, 2022, when I had a good life, family, job and home. At 4am the next morning, everything disappeared with the first rocket explosions. So I don’t feel like returning to Kyiv, at least until this war is over, and no one knows when that will be. I believe that if I end up in Britain, it’s fate. Meeting Miles at the show was fate as well – this job makes me feel needed. I also hope to paint and write stories again, because this is my soul’s calling.
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