A Ukrainian mother is travelling with her host family to watch the final of Eurovision in Liverpool today.

Maria Kostyk put out a post on Facebook shortly after war broke out in her homeland of Ukraine last February looking for somewhere to stay with her two small children in the UK - a country she had never been to before and knew nothing about.

Rebecca Lewis, who lives with her family in Marlow Bottom, responded to Maria's message, inviting her to stay with them for the indefinite future, and the rest is history.

One year in - Maria arrived in Marlow on April 27, 2022 - and the two families have blended with remarkable ease. Rebecca's 13-year-old daughter Zoe regularly babysits Maria's two children, aged 5 and 6, and Maria describes Rebecca and her husband Mark as "good friends".

Today, Maria and Zoe, who share a love of music, are travelling to Liverpool to watch the Eurovision song contest after the city took over hosting duties from Ukraine following last year's conflict.

Because of the train strikes taking place across the country, Rebecca's friend Vanessa Hill is planning to drive the pair to the M&S Bank Arena, setting off on the four hour drive at 6:30am.

Maria is a big Eurovision fan - she bonded over it with her mother-in-law back in Ukraine, while her husband preferred to watch the football. Zoe is excited too, describing the trip as "a really fun opportunity". 

Rebecca and Mark are not the only people in their locale to welcome asylum seekers with open arms. Volunteer group the Marlow Ukraine Collective has done amazing work over the past year to house over 200 Ukrainians in the town - with many local businesses lending a hand to help those looking for a fresh start.

Maria's experience has certainly been one of remarkable warmth - a friend who travelled from Ukraine with her now lives minutes away ("Maybe 10% of Marlow is now Ukrainian!") and her children have adapted with ease to their new social lives. 

"All my children's friends in school are English. My daughter said to me: 'I don't want to go back to Ukraine because all my friends are here!'"

It's not all perfect though - Maria's husband Sasha is still on the frontlines in Ukraine and has been fighting Russians in the east of the country on-and-off since 2014.

Yesterday (May 12) was Maria's 39th birthday and her husband phoned her at 4am to send his love before heading out to fight in an area with no phone signal.

"He called so early, I was frightened that something had happened! But he told me, 'everything's ok, don't worry! I just wanted to tell you happy birthday!'"

Rebecca wholeheartedly agreed that the two families have merged into one and described hosting Maria and her children as "one of the best things that we've ever done".

"It's extraordinary how much the children have learned over the past year - they've gone from just being able to say 'hello' to speaking English fluently with almost no accent.

"They're just like little sponges - it's been such a joy for us to see."

Click here for more information about the Marlow Ukraine Collective and the work they're doing to support guests and hosts in Marlow.