Sadly, today is the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine. It has been a long twelve months for those affected by this tragedy. We here at The Care Forum are proud to be supporting many Ukrainian families who were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in South Gloucestershire as part of the government’s Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
Our Homes for Ukraine Team have been incredibly busy supporting their Ukrainian guests. Helping them to settle into a strange new country, supporting them to complete complex legal paperwork, find school places for their children, helping them to register at GP surgeries and providing advice and guidance to our amazing host families.
The team are running very successful English classes, which are enabling our guests to integrate more easily into their new lives and facilitating many of our guest to find employment. Some are even in a position to move into their own privately rented accommodation so the Housing Workshops we have been running have also been incredibly helpful.
Alongside this valuable practical support, our team have been supporting these families with their emotional wellbeing. The team have been tirelessly providing activities to offer fun, inclusion and community; a chance for our guests to forget their reality for a moment. Press pause for a second on the worry of what is happening to loved ones back home.
Below is a piece written by our very own Kate Bissix – Homes for Ukraine Team Manager – on what it is like for our guests. This impactful piece gives an insight into why she feels the team’s work, and particularly the events are so important.
“Imagine this…. You wake up every morning and you look at your phone. No messages, no missed calls. You check the news feed, Facebook and Twitter.
“I do”, I hear you say.
Do you look to see if there are messages from your family and friends?
“Yes”, you reply.
“Why?”, I ask
Let me tell you why our guests from Ukraine do all of the above. They check their phones to see if their families and friends are alive. They check to see if any bombs have been dropped on their homes or their family homes. They check to see if Russia has moved further into their homeland or if their army has gained any ground.
Their Facebook newsfeed contains pictures of their homes, schools, and shops bombed. Notifications of people lost. There are no pictures of holidays or a friend’s child getting their badge at Brownies.
Phone calls contain stories of loss and struggles. Families talking of how the shops are empty. How the electricity and heating, if they’re lucky, were on for two hours, so they managed to charge their phones and torches. They talk about waking at four o’clock in the morning because that was when the electricity turned on. They were cooking so they would have some food for the next day.
Someone told me of a video call with their elderly mother, where she held the phone to the sky to show the missiles flying over her head. Can you imagine talking to your parents and them being in such a dangerous position, and you can do nothing about it? You couldn’t stay in Ukraine to look after them because you had to protect your own children. Imagine having to make that choice. Imagine your child wants to call their friend, and your immediate thought is, “will their friend answer?”. If not, is it because they’ll never be able to answer again? How will you tell your child their friends are gone?
When you call your mum, brother, or sister and there’s no answer, they’re busy working or out with friends, our guests are left thinking, “are they alive?”.
The above is a small snapshot of things we hear from our guests. A small taste of what they experience daily.
We do events in the hope that we give them a chance to be together for that short period. To laugh for their children to make friends. For them to be able to tell their families, their dads that are fighting daily, be it on the frontline with weapons or in the home fighting the cold and hunger. They can say their families here are safe, and the British people are helping them.
They can talk to the dads left behind about how their children saw Santa or made pumpkin lanterns. Allowing the dads to hear the laughter of their children and hear they are safe. The events not only take our guests out but give the families left behind a moment to share something good.
We do our events on a small budget, often receiving help from other community groups to hold them. Our team has become cooks, drivers, arts and crafts people, and much more. Each is done with the hope we can help our guests in some small way. We even got our CEO to dress as Santa and our director as an elf, which, if I’m honest, was my best idea to date.”