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Family sitting around the dinner table
Ukrainians who have fled war need support, especially at Christmas

With a lump in her throat and visibly emotional, Olivia says that this Christmas will be very special. For the first time, she and her family will share it with Ukrainian guests. Olivia is sociable and has lots of friends, and she is also close to her family. But until recently she has lived on her own, in a large flat. That changed when Daria and her daughter Alina moved in.

Shocked by the images of destruction and chaos in Ukraine, Olivia decided to join the Homes for Ukraine scheme through a charity that matched her with a small family. Olivia met Daria and Alina by videoconference and the three felt an instant connection from the first meeting.

Communication was a bit challenging at the beginning, but Alina speaks good English and after Daria had brushed-up on the English she had learnt when she was younger, Olivia and her guests managed to understand each other well.

During the first weeks after Olivia’s guests arrived, she helped them sort out some of the practical aspects of living in a new country, such as opening a bank account, accessing universal credit and finding a school for Alina. Simple things, like showing them how to use public transport helped her guests maintain a sense of freedom.

In recent months, Daria’s English has improved, and she can now do more things by her-self. She even found a job working in the kitchen of a small restaurant, while Alina started year 7 at a local secondary school where she is making new friends.

Olivia feels like Daria and Alina have been great company for her and her flat is now very lively and feels like a real home. Olivia invited her guests to spend Christmas with her family this year.

“My family is very happy to have Daria and Alina sharing Christmas with us. It is very sad for them not to be with their family during Christmas, but they said that they found a second family with me. Those words meant the world to me.”

Like Olivia, this Christmas many British families will have special guests sharing the festivities. It was in March 2022 that the UK Government launched Homes for Ukraine, an unusual refugee scheme that allows British citizens to sponsor visas for Ukrainians fleeing conflict, and take them into their homes for at least six months. As of 29th November 105,945 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK through the scheme.

Homes for Ukraine turned out to be much more than the provision of accommodation. Ukrainians need a safe space to call home, and their hosts describe making “friends for life”, as it opens the door to a whole new world of culture and language.

With the aim of supporting hosts and guests from Homes for Ukraine, a team of researchers from the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS) at the University of Birmingham, in consultation with Ukrainian guests and with input from officers from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, produced a toolkit. The toolkit pulls together all the key information, official documents, website links and resources produced for Homes for Ukraine by different stakeholders, all on a single platform. In essence it provides a one-stop shop for hosts, guests and other interested parties.

Included in the toolkit is a checklist of the factors that hosts and guests might consider when matching up with each other, as well as during each of the key resettlement phases – pre-arrival, the first weeks after the arrival, and the medium and long-term integration process. It also includes guidance on how to have difficult conversations for hosts and guests, and a list of local authority resources and Facebook support groups set up in the UK’s four nations.

The festive season is an emotional and difficult time of year for many. A focus on home and spending time with friends and family can be upsetting for those who have had to leave Ukraine. If you are hosting Ukrainian guests, and including them in your Christmas celebrations, the toolkit can provide some resources and advice which can help make the Christmas season a more positive memory for everyone.

The toolkit can be accessed in English and Ukrainian.

 

* The case study used is true and typical. Only the names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.