Skip to content

University of Bradford welcomes talented student from war-torn Ukraine


Ella Bodnar is a Ukrainian student studying Graphics for Games at the University of Bradford

THREE months ago, Ella Bodnar packed her belongings and fled her home in Ukraine, not knowing when - or if - she might return. 

Amongst her luggage was a brand new sketchbook and the imaginative drawings she has created since arriving in the UK have helped earn her a place at the University of Bradford. 

Arriving on campus in time for Welcome Week, Ella, 18, said: “I’m so happy to be here. 

“I’m really excited to start the course. The facilities at the University are fantastic.”

Ella, who is aiming for a career designing computer games, arranged for herself, her mum, Yana, a cardiologist, and her 10-year-old brother, Oleksii, to come to the UK via the Homes for Ukraine scheme. 

The family arrived in July and have been living in Bratton, Wilts., thanks to the kindness of their sponsors, Russ McAnulla, a retired environmental engineer, and his artist wife, Kathy. 

Ella Bodnar with her mum Yana and brother Oleksii

Pictured above: Ella with her mum Yana and brother Oleksii

Ella’s boyfriend, Oleksandr, 25, a mechanical engineer, also came with them, and is hoping to get a job in Bradford so he can be near her. 

Ella’s father, Viktor, a gynaecologist, stayed in Ukraine to help with the war effort, and her grandparents remained in the family’s home in Pokrovsk, in the eastern Donetsk region of the country, which has suffered shelling in recent weeks. 

Ella said: “It was very hard to leave but we knew, from the start of the invasion, that we had to get out.  

“It took two days to drive across the country to Lviv. It was very scary as it’s very dangerous now. We were there for a few weeks to sort out our visas, then we got a bus to Poland, where we boarded a flight to London on July 15. 

“My grandparents won’t leave. They say it’s not dangerous in our town, but that’s not true. At least they have a car so we hope they can get out if they need to. We are so worried about them and my father. I speak to my dad every day.”

Ella Bodnar and Russ McAnully at the University of Bradford

Pictured above: Ella with Russ

Russ and Kathy have formed a lovely bond with the family and were so impressed with Ella’s sketches, they set about getting her a place on the BA Graphics for Games degree, one of only a handful of its kind in the country. 

The family has an affection for Bradford as Russ and Kathy’s youngest of three children, Andrew, studied electrical engineering at the University in the late 1990s. His daughter, Sonya, was already living in Cleckheaton, West Yorks.,  at the time and they both went on to progress their careers at Bradford Technologies (BTL Ltd), a global provider of assessment services and technology. Sonya heads up the UK office and Andy leads the American arm.

Russ said: “I’m a big believer that young people should be independent and when we saw Ella’s drawings, we were so bowled over, we knew we had to help get her onto the best possible course. 

“From the minute I contacted the University of Bradford, everyone has been so helpful. They have pulled out all the stops to get her here.”

A drawing of a spider by Ukrainian student Ella Bodnar

Pictured above: One of Ella's sketches

Due to Ella’s circumstances, she didn’t have access to any academic documents, nor had she undertaken an English language test, something international students are usually required to take before being accepted onto a degree course in the UK. 

She said: “I didn’t think I would be able to study here without the documents and the test but Russ contacted the university, who put me in touch with Dr Fin Caton-Rose, Head of Department for Media, Design and Technology, who asked to see my pictures.”

The talented artist had completed a year studying computer modelling, programming and animation at university in Ukraine before the invasion broke out in February and she intends to carry on with her studies online, meaning she will be working towards two degrees simultaneously.

She is looking forward to joining the equestrian society at the University of Bradford, having found a love of horse riding while living in Wiltshire. 

Ella, who spent her 18th birthday seeing the sights in London and has been acting as the family’s interpreter, said: “I learned my English at school and University but that’s quite different to being in the UK and speaking it outside of the classroom. 

“For me, it’s not just a new university, but a new country and a new language too.

“I always dreamed of coming to the UK. Of course I didn’t imagine it would be for this reason.”

Team effort

It has been a team effort at the University of Bradford, involving Associate Director of Outreach, Recruitment and Marketing, Claire Pryke, Student Life Adviser Sam Webb, who dealt with Ella’s student finance and Dr Fin Caton-Rose who dropped everything to interview Ella within 24 hours of Russ first contacting the university.

Dr Fin Caton-Rose said: "When I spoke to Ella, her passion for games and for developing a career in the games industry shone through. She's clearly a talented artist, but it was her enthusiasm that really sold me."

Nigel Futter, Outreach and Recruitment Officer at the University of Bradford, has worked tirelessly to get Ella onto the course and met her on campus on Saturday to welcome her. 

He said: “It’s been a very steep learning curve but once we got everything up and running, it all happened very quickly.

“We managed to go back to Ella with an offer of a place within 48 hours of that initial call. 

“We’re absolutely thrilled to be able to help.”

Robert Redman, programme lead for BA Graphics for Games, said: “The fact Ella has managed to escape a war-torn country and wants to study with us is really humbling.

“Her drawings are fantastic and we are delighted she is joining us. Ella will be a great asset to the course and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with.”

Left to right: Andrew Gray, Outreach and recruitment officer, Russ McAnulla, Ella Bodnar, Nigel Futter, Outreach and Recruitment officer and Dr Robert Redman

Pictured above: Andrew Gray, Outreach and Recruitment Officer, Russ McAnulla, Ella Bodnar, Nigel Futter, Outreach and Recruitment Officer and Robert Redman


Back to news from 2022