Fiona Evans, director, head of operations, FBC
When the horrifying news stories began to emerge from Ukraine in late February about the Russian invasion, my husband and I wanted to do something to help. We decided to offer an individual, couple, or mother and young child, our ‘garden room’ as a place of safety under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The room is independently accessible, ensuite and has basic kitchen facilities and storage, so we could retain our own privacy as well as offering independent living for our guest.
Signing up in mid-March, we quickly found that it was down to us to identify the ‘guest’ or ‘guests’ we would like to help and make the connection ourselves. Fearing the social media option was too unregulated, we signed up to three separate organisations/charities who promised a ‘matching service’ – Opora, Reset and Ukraina Space.*
We found much helpful advice in social media groups managed by volunteers:
- Approach a guest or guests who are at a similar stage of life – e.g. if you have young children, you will have all the paraphernalia that a young family might need
- Make sure you establish a good dialogue before you do anything – it must work for both parties
- If language is a barrier – there are various translation apps available
- Have at least one video call before agreeing to apply for a visa
- Don’t send money
- Be open minded – they may change their minds at the last minute and decide to remain in Ukraine
- Don’t describe your house as rural, in Ukraine this can mean no running water or utilities!
Eventually we were contacted by a single 40-year-old woman through Ukraina Space. Nadiia is from Kyiv and before the war she had her own photography business. Three days later we held a video call as she sat in the basement of her apartment block while the (nightly) air-raid sirens were going off. Looking tired, she spoke good English and was remarkably positive considering her situation. Very quickly we decided to apply for her visa. I completed the form and it arrived 5 days later.
Nadiia travelled to the UK on 29th May via Krakow – leaving Kyiv by train three days earlier.
Since arriving, we have been busy organising life for Nadiia so that she will be able to work and live independently in the UK. She’s done most of the work herself, arranging for a BRP (Biometric Residence Permit) which will allow her to stay in the UK for 3 years, a UK bank account, UK SIM card, NI number and Universal Credit. Most important to Nadiia has been finding and attending local English lessons.
In the past few days, Nadiia opened up to me about how, when war broke out, she fled Kyiv with her parents only to find themselves in a small town surrounded by bombing and the absolute terror of Russian troops advancing ever closer. In the middle of winter, they had no heating, water or electricity and eventually used all the candles they’d saved. In desperation they escaped to a different town and stayed for a few days in the basement of a property, but with fighting overhead they eventually travelled to the ‘relative’ safety of Lviv. When Russians bombed the city not long after they arrived, Nadiia made the difficult decision to leave her homeland – returning to Kyiv with her parents to plan her escape.
Nadiia’s parents are pleased she is safe. Every night they sleep in a Kyiv basement – temporarily escaping the city again this past weekend when they were warned of the planned bombing of the capital by Russians. At 70, they are not keen to start a new life in a different country but staying is not easy either.
When bad news comes from Ukraine, Nadiia finds things to do to occupy her mind, but she still smiles a lot and is gracious for anything we do for her. She told me – “I’m living in two different worlds.”
For us, the process has been hugely rewarding and I hope to have made a friend for life. It’s humbling to be able to help someone like Nadiia, and it’s impressive to hear her English improve almost daily. We try to give her space and allow her to settle into her new normal.
View Nadiia’s profile on LinkedIn
*Host families are now in short supply across the UK – please contact these organisations for more information. The Homes for Ukraine scheme requires sponsors to provide a home for Ukrainian guest(s) for a minimum of six months.