UK

Headteacher says MBE is ‘recognition for the whole of the Ukrainian community’

Inna Hryhorovych after being made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by the Princess Royal at Windsor Castle, Berkshire (Victoria Jones/PA)
Inna Hryhorovych after being made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by the Princess Royal at Windsor Castle, Berkshire (Victoria Jones/PA) Inna Hryhorovych after being made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by the Princess Royal at Windsor Castle, Berkshire (Victoria Jones/PA)

The headteacher of a school which aided young Ukrainian refugees escaping from war has said her MBE is “recognition for the whole of the Ukrainian community”.

Inna Hryhorovych, headteacher of St Mary’s Ukrainian School in Holland Park, west London, was honoured by the Princess Royal at Windsor Castle as her husband Serhiy Kadyshchuk and two children Alex and Tina watched on.

The Ukrainian headteacher, who was named in this year’s King’s Birthday Honours list, helped mould St Mary’s as a school that could provide education and a caring environment to displaced Ukrainian children.

Ms Hryhorovych, who arrived in the UK from Ukraine 13 years ago, told the PA news agency: “What a journey; to be recognised with an MBE and receive it from the Princess Royal and especially for a person who was not born here being able to share values, and prove no matter where you are that you can be useful for the community.

Investitures at Windsor Castle
Investitures at Windsor Castle Inna Hryhorovych with the Princess Royal (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“This (award) is recognition for the whole of the Ukrainian community and St Mary’s school I’m representing.

“Every child has shown such resilience and thanks to the kindness and support of the British and non-British people, everyone in the UK, who helped us scale up and do the work for Ukrainian children.”

The mother of three said she found it “hard” to manage her concerns for her family members back in Ukraine while also ensuring that her school provided support to Ukrainian children after the Russian invasion of the country in 2022.

“It was hard and still is hard for every member of staff to deal with worries of our own and still be strong and hope for the children we have… we had to find the strength and resilience to be there for them,” she said.

“The challenge we faced in the first weeks (when the war started) was the flow of children, they were just coming – one day we had 75 families turning up.

“We decided, straightaway, we are taking everyone in and we’ll find a way to scale the premises up and the provision.

“Children who were fleeing the war came to us shattered, reserved, like rabbits in a hole, and it took a while to develop trust and get them to do the normal things that children would usually do at their age.”

Investitures at Windsor Castle
Investitures at Windsor Castle Inna Hryhorovych, a mother of three from Amersham (Victoria Jones/PA)

Ms Hryhorovych initially felt guilty for not being in Ukraine during the start of the war, she added, but now understands that being in the UK was necessary.

She said: “(My children) almost didn’t see their mum for six months after the war started, we had to be strong as a family and my husband became my rock.”

Apart from supporting children, Ms Hryhorovych also provided support to their families.

She explained: “We quickly had to develop a holistic approach and support system for families and help mums integrate, help them find their feet on the ground.

“Today I can say proudly that 85% of staff at St Mary’s are displaced Ukrainians.

“We gave them those first steps, took them as staff members and provided them with essential lessons and now some of them are starting their work in mainstream education.”

The school has experienced a significant increase in the number of enrolled pupils, rising from 226 to around 1,200 since 2022.

The resident of Amersham, Buckinghamshire, will return to celebrate her MBE with her students at St Mary’s later on Tuesday.