Seven Million Sunflowers

Seven Million Sunflowers
Malcolm Duffy

15-year-old Kateryno and her family live in Kharkiv. Their lives are shattered when on February 24th 2022 the Russian army invades. Their apartment block is struck by a missile. After weeks living in their basement, Kateryno, her mother, and brother, decide to leave, joining seven million Ukrainian refugees. They come to England and meet their host family, the Hawkins. But their new beginning brings a whole new set of problems.

Find out more

Dear Reader,

In early 2022, I was searching for a topic for my new book. My previous stories had all looked at issues through the eyes of young men – domestic violence, homelessness, dyslexia. I imagined my next book would follow similar lines.

The morning of February 24th changed all that.

Like many, I was shocked, sickened and saddened as Russian troops began their invasion of Ukraine. Not only was there terrible suffering and destruction, so began one of the largest refugee crises the world has ever seen, as over seven million Ukrainians fled their country to escape the fighting. This number gave my book its title. Since the middle of 2023, this number has now grown to over eight million.

My wife, daughters and I decided to help. We joined the Homes for Ukraine scheme and in May of that year we invited the Marchenko family into our home – eighteen-year-old Sofiia, her mum Lesia, and her grandma Liubov, three of the 174,000 Ukrainians who have come to live in the UK.

The Marchenkos’ story is typical of so many Ukrainians. Sofiia, Lesia and Liubov left their home city of Bila Tserkva, south of Kyiv, as the situation became ever more dangerous. Then they travelled through Poland, Germany, France, Spain and Portugal, ending their journey in the Duffy household in Surrey, in May 2022.

Opening our home to a Ukrainian family opened my eyes to what it’s like to escape a war, and the resilience needed to face new challenges. Over the following year, I learned so much, not only about life in Ukraine, but about the UK, and how strange it can seem from the viewpoint of someone who has never lived here. Sofiia, Lesia and Liubov have not only shown me what refugees go through – the wrench of leaving their home, friends and family far behind, dealing with a constant stream of bad news, adapting to a new country, a new culture – they’ve also shown me something else: courage, fortitude, humility.

I decided to write about Kat, a young woman from Ukraine, who escaped the fighting with her mum and older brother and finds herself living with a family in the UK. Sofiia, who speaks superb English, was instrumental in helping me tell the story of the Kovalenkos as they move from Kharkiv to Kingston. While the story is fiction, I hope it truthfully represents what many Ukrainians in the UK are having to live through. Slava Ukraini! Glory to Ukraine! - Malcom Duffy

Other books by

If you like this, try