“My family had to run away because we had white skin and blue eyes!” Refugee from country where ‘they view women as pets’ fulfils childhood dream of working in healthcare in Pinchbeck
A woman who was forced to hastily flee from her homeland due to racist attacks says her experiences have inspired her to pursue her childhood dream of working in healthcare.
Elena Orlova and her family were forced to leave Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat due to a period of conflict in the country – which neighbours Afghanistan and Iran - in the early 1990s, the 33-year-old beginning a long journey that has seen her eventually settle in Lincolnshire.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkmenistan declared its independence.
But then life dramatically changed for Elena and her loved ones.
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“My family had to run away because we had white skin and blue eyes. Crimes increased and families would be killed because they were white,” she said.
“We were scared and that is why we left.”
Turkmenistan is viewed as one of the most closed and repressive nations on the planet, where discrimination against ethnic minorities such as Russians, Balochs and Uzbeks remains in practice.
“It is also a very sexist place, women are viewed not human enough to be respected,” Elana added.
“Women are not allowed to drive, sit in the front seat of a car or study.
“If you wanted to go to the supermarket you would need to ask your brother or father to walk with you, this is because they think you are not able to do it – it’s like they view women as pets.”
Elena and her family moved to Russia in the middle of winter as refugees, without a home, food, clothing and money.
She explained: “It was very hot in Ashgabat, sometimes it would be over 50 degrees, so when we moved to Russia we had nothing to prepare us for the cold, it was -25 degrees when we first arrived.”
During this difficult time, Elena said her family grew stronger together and refused to let this break them.
Elena grew up in Russia and met her husband, later having their own family.
“It was a new experience, I was cold all the time. The culture was like another world but what I really liked about Russia was the nature, it was beautiful and the people were really friendly,“ she added.
After Elena’s husband received a new career opportunity, the family moved to England during 2019, but only two months after their arrival, the country went into isolation and they were stuck at home for two years.
Elena said: “Covid was really frustrating because I couldn't begin to get to know this country. My English wasn't very good and I didn't know anything at all.
“I was scared to go to the shops because it was so scary, I knew nothing and I couldn't’ speak or understand anything, I was completely lost and it was very confusing.
“After everything that happened with Covid, I decided that I wanted to help people and my childhood dream was to work in a hospital, so I thought, why not try it.
“It gave me the opportunity to see if this is what I enjoyed doing and to make sure it was what I wanted to do for definite.”
After experiencing life on the ward, Elena decided to put herself forward for a Healthcare Support Worker role and was later successful and got the job.
She added: “I came to England with no GCSE’s, I knew nothing about the NHS and I had never even been to a hospital myself, so it was all new to me.
“The hospital has provided me with such great support and I feel pretty confident about starting my new role.
“I think England is beautiful – it’s my favourite country out of all of the one’s I have been too and I’d love for my children to study and start their life here. “