Case study: Levko
Levko came to the UK alone when he was only 16 years old; he is now 24. He escaped to save himself from a likely arrest – ‘I was a bad boy’, he says – and left his sweetheart behind. They were from two different words, ‘… like Romeo and Juliette. I was from the mafia and my girlfriend was the daughter of the chief of the traffic police’. After eight years in the UK, he still thinks of her and how to bring her to London, but the lack of papers makes the dream impossible. He doesn’t want her to think he is ‘a pirate’. Levko became an adult in the UK and his life went through significant changes after leaving his juvenile friends behind.
Levko has learned his trade here, working hard and making mistakes. He is a painter and decorator, and he likes his job, especially when he is asked to restore old frames, floors and stairs. ‘It’s like giving a new life to every millimetre you did’. It is a good job, but if he was documented, he could easily be paid double his £65-a-day wage.
At the beginning, most of Levko’s salary went in remittances, he lived on ‘bread and water’ and bought a one bedroom flat in Ukraine after less than two years. But, then he began to go out a little and spend more money on himself:
I don’t want to save on my life and on my health. I don’t wish to live with eight people in one room. I want to live by myself, enjoy life. I wish to live, not just exist.
The distance from his family is a heavy burden on Levko. He hasn’t been back home for seven years. He left as a teenager and now he feels he is a different person.
What kills me really, that for seven years you haven’t seen your dear ones. I have changed a lot, hugely. I very very much want simply to go and see… who, where and how…
Sometimes, even for an energetic young man, being undocumented becomes too much to bear:
Twice I had a time that I simply didn’t want to live anymore… you feel that you are nobody. I didn’t want to be alive.
Levko explains how he has often thought of going to the Home Office in Croydon, and shouting, ‘I’m tired of this, do what you like of me’ without thinking of the consequences.
Now he feels that, at 24, it is time for him to be more focused and to fulfil his many ambitions.
I have a problem that I want to do everything in life. Try everything, do everything.
He dreams of a career in music as a DJ or a sound engineer. For now, he plays music for his friends, and thinks that the UK is a place of great opportunities for those with ideas and zeal, ‘… if only I had the papers’.