Nataliia Doroshko, a 35-year-old lawyer, celebrated St. Nicholas Day with friends and family in her hometown of Cherkasy, which is located on the snow-covered banks of the Dnipro River, downstream from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
She recalled that one of the men sneaked away from the party and returned dressed as St. Nicholas, a Ukrainian version of Santa Claus known as “Sviatyij Mykolai.” Children lined up to see what he had brought for them, their eyes wide with wonder. Doroshko recalls one of the last happy evenings she spent with loved ones before Russia invaded Ukraine and turned her world upside down.
She told CNN on December 19 from a church hall in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, a town upstream from London, where she was celebrating the holiday, “We had special food, special music, and presents for everybody.”
The small hall was adorned with strands of lights in the shape of snowflakes, and more than 100 people had gathered there, including teachers, Ukrainian refugees, host families, and locals. While others made cakes and cookies, the vicar was serving drinks. Children in Christmas sweaters laughed and played musical chairs while one Ukrainian father donned a red and gold St. Nicholas costume.
The event’s organizer, Krish Kandiah, who earlier this year established the Sanctuary Foundation to assist in matching Ukrainian refugees with British host families, stated, “We’ve celebrated a festival we don’t usually celebrate.” The way the community has received Ukrainians has been wonderful.
Doroshko, who was supported by Kandiah, went over him by some coincidence. She was looking for refugee programs on her phone while she was on a packed train trying to flee the fighting. She saw him in a YouTube video about a British program called “Homes for Ukraine” that would let Ukrainians go to the UK if they could find a sponsor. She reached out for assistance right away. She got a call from Kandiah five minutes later.
Doroshko, who is now nearly fluent, stated, “Unfortunately, we were unable to talk, as my English level was close to zero.” Kandiah helped her get a visa and travel to the UK over several weeks with the help of Google Translate. She has been living with him, his better half and their six kids since May.
As of mid-December, in excess of 100,000 Ukrainians have shown up in England under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship conspire, while another 42,600 have come stay with family members, as per the UK government. Families were asked to commit to hosting for a minimum of six months when the program began in March. However, for many Ukrainians who arrived in the spring, that time has passed.
In order to get a sense of what’s next as the war continues, CNN spoke with nine British hosts, eight Ukrainian refugees, and UK charities that are supporting the program. Russia’s persistent attacks on Ukraine’s power grid are threatening to trigger a new wave of refugees this winter. The elderly Ukrainian couple, who had arrived in the UK on December 1 to escape the conflict and the freezing temperatures, sat quietly in the church hall, taking in the festivities. In the coming weeks, more people are expected to join them.
It was comforting for Ukrainians spending their first Christmas in their new homes to celebrate old customs. However, despite the room’s abundance of holiday cheer, there was a tangible sense of uncertainty regarding the coming year.
Many are uncertain the way in which long they will be welcome in their new homes and whether the half year “cutoff time” will project them out in the city. Some of the Britons who have signed up for the program are happy to host for as long as it takes, but others want to find a deal that is more long-term for both parties. Some say they’ve “done their piece” and essentially need their lives back, however are hazy on a leave system.
One host stated to CNN, “Two years is a very long time to have someone living in your house.”
Wishing for their own house
Presently, the UK government gives have families £350 ($425) a month in “bless your heart” installments to assist with taking care of expenses, no matter what the quantity of individuals they have. However, the opportunity to assist, rather than monetary gain, was the primary reason that the majority of people CNN spoke with agreed to participate in the program.
Robert Aitkin, 76, stated, “Frankly, it has improved our lives.” He and his wife sponsored Oleksandra, who goes by the name Sasha, and Igor Kuzmenko, along with their daughter Miroslava, who is two years old, and now they host the family at their home in Henley-on-Thames. Sasha’s sister and her son, who was just a few months old when the war started, have also moved to the Oxfordshire town.
As a result of attending the St. Nicholas party together, the families claim to have developed a relationship that will last a lifetime. Even though they initially agreed to live together for a year, Aitkin stated that “we would definitely do that” if the Kuzmenkos needed more time.
However, not everyone is able or willing to keep their doors open forever. The Kuzmenkos live separately from the Aitkins because they have an apartment attached to their house. For those with less space, extending recent months could represent a test. ” Aitkin acknowledged that although the initial gestures were admirable, living in a small space together must be challenging for both parties.
With these issues in mind, Kandiah’s Sanctuary Foundation started a petition asking the government to help more Ukrainians who are having trouble finding a place to live. On November 29, Kandiah and a group of Ukrainian refugees went to 10 Downing Street to hand deliver the petition, which had over 4,500 signatures.
After fourteen days, the public authority recognized the need to help English families who had invited Ukrainians into their homes, expanding the month to month payment to £500 for the people who have facilitated for more than a year. The public authority likewise carried out a £650 million help bundle, which incorporates subsidizing for neighborhood specialists to assist with supporting Ukrainian displaced people move into their own homes, secure extra lodging stock and decrease the gamble of vagrancy.
CNN inquired of the Oxfordshire County Council, which oversees Henley-on-Thames, regarding the assistance they currently provide to homeless Ukrainian refugees. A communications officer told CNN that while we will do everything in our power to continue providing guests with suitable lodging, longer-term housing options may not be available within the county for everyone who requires them.
British charities are looking into creative ways to rehouse refugees because there are no long-term options through local councils. The term “re-hosting,” which Kandiah compares to “sofa-surfing,” is one possibility being discussed. However, he is concerned that Britain’s willingness to assist during the war is unlikely to change.
Because most of their hosts live in expensive areas, Ukrainian refugees have begun to settle in places they can’t necessarily afford. This is one part of the problem. In addition, Ukrainians are unable to afford the exorbitant rent because they cannot find work with wages comparable to those they earned prior to the war.
CNN talked to a lot of Ukrainians and found that their qualifications did not translate to the United States. In Cherkasy, Natasha worked as a lawyer; She now works in a retail establishment. Another woman, 45-year-old Tania Orlova, worked as a clinical psychologist in Kiev and owned several businesses; She is currently employed by a charity in the town of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
Orlova, who speaks multiple languages, stated that she could have relocated elsewhere in Europe, such as to Spain or Germany, but that the UK offered her the best future for her mother, 67, Danylo, and the opportunity to become “financially independent.” But that hasn’t happened yet, and as her agreed-upon 10-month timeline approaches, she’s becoming more concerned about where they will go.
According to Orlova, when she calls real estate agents, they all begin with the same question: How much do you make?” After a fast estimation, they let her know she qualified for. ” She stated, “I couldn’t take anything within that price range that would suit three of us, let alone two of us.” The most recent data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics indicate that a three-bedroom apartment in Oxfordshire costs an average of £1,295 per month.
After its disastrous Afghan resettlement program, the UK government started the Homes for Ukraine program. According to the government, thousands of Afghan asylum seekers and refugees were still living in UK hotels in August, a year after fleeing the Taliban’s takeover, at a cost of more than £5 million per day. Although the program offered permanent residency, only a few thousand people have received it so far.
Compared to other refugee groups, Ukrainians have received a warmer welcome in the UK, but their stay is marked by a sense of temporaryity. The Ukrainians who hold the visa are expected to return home after the three-year period ends. Even though many people want to go back, their futures in the UK are uncertain for those who can’t or won’t.
Stanislav Benes, managing director of Opora, which translates to “support” in Ukrainian and helps match Ukrainians with British host families, stated, “The people who planned to go back as quickly as possible [to Ukraine] would not have made the quite considerable journey to the UK, gone through the whole rigmarole of the process of getting a visa, found a sponsor, gone to the most distant part of Europe – and then only settle there for a short time.”
“What are the support structures going to be between year one and year three?” requires much more thought. Added he.
Wishing for Peace
When they decided to host Ukrainian refugees, the hosts were aware of the high costs and cultural differences they might face, but they were less prepared to take on the mental stress and suffering their guests were still going through.
According to Orlova’s statement to CNN, assistance is urgently required for Ukrainians like herself who are still suffering from the effects of the conflict. She claimed that when she went to a nearby hospital for an X-ray, the machine’s noises brought back memories. She heard the sirens wail on the morning of the invasion and was suddenly back in Ukraine. I desired to flee there. She remarked, “I was crying.
Since the beginning of the war, her son Danylo has suffered from night terrors. At the St. Nicholas festivity, the coordinators eliminated inflatables from the congregation lobby after somebody called attention to that youngsters could overreact assuming one of them was to pop.
According to Kandiah, Ukrainians will require a space that they can truly call their own in order to properly recover and regain their sense of self. You need to be able to say, “We’re a family,” when you close the front door. Both the language we speak and the food we consume are up to us.’ Having agency and the capacity to make decisions is an essential component of trauma recovery.
However, Kandiah stated that his own family is pleased to assist Doroshko in his healing and make him feel at home until then. Their family now eats bortsch, perogies, and holubtsi, a Ukrainian dish with stuffed cabbage. One of the many cultural exchanges that Kandiah has participated in is the substitution of cough drops for the Ukrainian practice of drinking hot beer to treat a sore throat.
Doroshko stated that she is relieved not to have to carry an “emergency suitcase” and be concerned about being awoken by sirens. She stated, “I lost my parents when I was 20 years old.” I now feel like I have a family. I wasn’t adopted until I was an adult.
In Ukraine, Christmas Eve is observed on January 6. Doroshko said that she celebrated last year by continuing an old custom: jotting down a “dream” on paper before burning it, drinking the ashes, and putting them in a glass. Doroshenko said, “It makes your dreams come true.”
What is she hoping to accomplish this year? Peace.”