Empowering Ukrainian refugees to rebuild their lives through employment support

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As one of the biggest providers of employment, health, and disability support programmes in the country, we’re committed to ensuring every participant has access to the tailored support they need to help them thrive.  

Through our specialised employment support programmes, we’re able to address the unique challenges faced by refugees who are settling into a new community, whilst working closely with local employers and skills providers to create meaningful and sustainable job opportunities that align with their skills and interests.  

One of our Employment Advisors, Yuliia Khotieieva, had been supporting two Ukrainian refugees, Yuliia and Maryna, after they both fled the conflict in their home country and moved to Cardiff to start new lives. As a Ukrainian refugee herself, Yuliia formed a close relationship with both participants, communicating with them in their native language and helping them to settle into their new community. 

She explained: “I think it is important for refugees to feel supported and to know that they are not alone in this country. When I started working as an Employment Advisor, I realised I would have the opportunity to help other people who are like me and my mum, as we are refugees who came from another country.

“We are trying to move forward as we know that is the only way to survive and help ourselves and our families. This is what I want to show my participants, that they can do everything that they want – no matter where they are.

Leaving behind her husband and parents to seek refuge for her young family, Maryna Huchmazova, 44, arrived in Cardiff with her children, unable to speak any English but desperate to support herself and build a new life. Although she had always worked in her native Ukraine, she knew she needed additional support and joined the Work and Health Programme in October 2022. 

Maryna said: “When I arrived in the UK, I did not know English, so getting the help from Maximus was important for me, so I could provide for my family and be independent again. Yulia helped me all the time. She supported me and made me feel confident that I can do it.” 

Fellow refugee, Yuliia Shevchenko, was attending a local jobs fair in Cardiff when she met Employment Advisor, Yuliia, who advised how Maximus and the Work and Health Programme could support her to develop her skills and enter work.   

Yuliia explained:When I first came to the UK, I was applying for many different jobs, but my application was not successful which made me upset and very worried.  Meeting Yuliia was great because she is also from my country, and she knew how hard it was.” 

With encouragement and help from their Employment Advisor, Maryna and Yuliia both attended regular ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes to improve their English language skills. They were also supported by Digital College, a member of our Community Partnership Network, where Maryna gained an intermediate IT qualification along with a food hygiene, and health and safety certificates, whilst Yuliia attended hospitality, customer service skills and business administration courses.  

Now feeling more confident about their employability prospects, Yuliia put them forward for a working interview with Bakestones, a traditional Welsh cake producer, who we have been supporting with their recruitment for more than 13 years. After a successful interview, both participants began their new roles in July last year. 

Yuliia reflected: “I wanted a job where I could speak with people which would help my English improve. With help from Maximus, I got my job with Bakestones, and I am very glad now to start my new life in the UK. I am extremely grateful to Maximus for all their help and understanding.” 

Ukrainian refugees Yulia and Maryna working at Bakestones.

To help with their transition into work, Adam El Tagoury, manager of the family-run business, placed both participants on the same shift to ensure they felt less isolated.

He said: “Moving to a new country is a massive life-changing experience especially when you have no choice because of war, so I really wanted to make sure that Yuliia and Maryna’s integration into work was as smooth and stress-free as possible. They gave each other moral support and settled into the team really well.

“The partnership we have with Maximus is extremely successful and working with the team is seamless. They are friendly and listen to our needs, always providing suitable and fantastic candidates who end up staying with us for a very long time. In fact, some of our long-term employees are from Maximus and have been with us for more than six years.”

Although Yuliia and Maryna did not know each other before they started working at Bakestones, they are now thriving in their new roles and looking forward to brighter futures. 

Maryna has become fully independent as a result of her new job, leaving her host family and moving into her own rented accommodation with her children. She explained: “I am grateful to Maximus and my advisor. Now I am working at Bakestones, I am happy and have started to build back my life and provide for my family.”  


Reflecting on the pride she feels at seeing them both in work, their Employment Advisor, Yuliia added: Even though they are both from the same city, they did not know each other before and now they’ve had the chance to meet each other here. Together they can support enjoy each other’s company and support each other.  

“Helping people like Yulia and Maryna makes me feel that I’m doing something really important. I feel really proud, and I think that for them this is a perfect beginning to their new life in Wales. 

05 January, 2024