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From Mariupol to Barnsley via Kyiv

To lose a home is heart-breaking, but Olga, Dmytro and their son Ilya, lost their home twice. This was made all the more terrifying as Ilya has additional needs. Originally from Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine, the war with Russia forced the family to move to Mariupol, but soon the war caught up with them again and their apartment in Mariupol was destroyed. They fled to Kyiv where they stayed for six months, but Ilya found the bombs flying overhead too much to bear. Olga and Dmytro knew they had to find a safe home for him. They were put in touch with Rosanne, also a mother of children with additional needs. Through the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme, they moved to Barnsley to live with Rosanne and her family for six months.

Olga, Dmitri and Ilya

Olga says, “England is a beautiful country, wonderful nature, wonderful people, very kind, very polite. People are ready to help.”

Dmytro adds, “I’m surprised that in England such kind and open people are ready to help, but we are faced with a very strong bureaucracy. Rosanne helps people to understand our problems and overcome this.”

Now they are moving to their own rented home nearby. Olga continues to work online as head of department in a Ukrainian insurance company whilst Dmytro is a full-time carer for Ilya. Asked if they want to stay in the UK, Dmytro says, “We want to go home but I don’t know where our home is now, because our house has been absolutely destroyed, so now we’re here. We are missing Ukraine, but we must look for next steps here. We want to say a huge thank you to Rosanne. She always helps us.”

The experience of a host – Rosanne tells her story

“There’s so much evil in this world, so many wars that shouldn’t be, but this one felt so close to home. When the Homes for Ukraine scheme was announced, there was a way that we could do something positive and hopefully make a difference. My husband is ex-army and he said, ‘I’ve seen the impact of war, and this is something we need to do.’”

But the decision wasn’t easy. With a family of four children, Rosanne wanted to make sure everyone bought into the idea: “My two oldest girls no longer live here, but this is still their family home – and we have two sons that live with us aged 17 and 12 who both have additional needs. They all had to be part of the decision. My youngest boy is autistic with ADHD and he didn’t really know much about the war, so to broach it I showed him some News Round clips, and one was of Polish families taking in Ukrainians early on in the war. My son turned to me and his automatic response was, ‘We need to do that, Mummy, can we do that, can we help?’. It showed me that humanity wins out.”

Like many would-be hosts, Rosanne turned to Facebook, but waited for the right opportunity. Eventually she saw a post asking if anyone would be prepared to take someone with special educational needs and no one had replied. “I asked for more information. A few days later the woman got back to me and gave me Olga’s number. I messaged her, and there’s been no looking back.”

That was back in April, and Olga and her husband Dmytro and their adult son Ilya eventually arrived in Barnsley in July. The three months in-between gave a valuable opportunity to get to know each other. Rosanne says, “I needed to be sure that we had a good chance of making it work, to be fair to everyone. We messaged every day, shared photos and developed a friendship. In the meantime, there was also a lot for us to do here, preparing the house and scouring forums to find out what we would need to do when they arrived. We contacted Barnsley Council who sent us a checklist.”

When the family arrived, it took a while to adjust and find a good way of living together. Dmytro, Olga and Ilya have their own space in their two rooms. They spend a lot of time there although they are welcome to use the rest of the house. Both families have different mealtimes, but sometimes have meals together. Twice a week, Rosanne bakes and Olga, Dmytro and Ilya join in over a cup of tea. Rosanne says, “We’ve found our balance between having some time together and living our independent lives.” She adds, “You need to be open minded and accept that any family coming to stay with you will be grateful, but they’ve encountered things that you haven’t and they have a different cultural background. You’ve got to have mutual respect to make it work.”

Rosanne and Husband

The hardest part has been the paperwork. Rosanne has spent hours on the phone helping the family to negotiate bureaucracy. She says, “To start with, when I was waiting an hour and a half on the phone, Olga and Dmytro thought there must be a problem with the line, so I had to explain that, no, this is how it is in England, we queue!”

Rosanne, who runs a support group for parents whose children have additional needs, knew immediately that Ilya needed a Personal Independence Payment, but it took three attempts to submit a claim. Each time the form was not sent out or lost when it was submitted. On the third attempt Rosanne made an official complaint and still received no response, so she approached her MP and eventually her complaint was upheld. After five months, Ilya received his first payment.

Rosanne reflects, ‘’The Homes for Ukraine Scheme was actually a good idea, but I don’t think the measures required to support the Ukrainians have been implemented appropriately. There hasn’t been enough information from the Home Office, or enough support locally. You have to know what you need to ask to be able to find anything out. I’ve had to provide a lot of support which I couldn’t have done if I’d been working full time.”

Olga and Dmytro have been attending college learning English since September. Initially they struggled to find an ESOL course they could get to. Rosanne explains, “They’re working so hard to improve their English to give themselves better prospects, for Olga to get a job here. It’s very important to them to be able to contribute to society and not be a burden.”

On 18th January, both families celebrated six months together and marked their friendship with cake and wine. Soon Olga, Dmytro and Ilya will be moving to a nearby rented property. Rosanne says, “We’ve been lucky, we have a lot in common. I would advise anyone thinking of hosting, really think about it, do your homework, speak to those who have hosted already, understand what you are and are not prepared to do.

“It’s been a very humbling experience for me. It’s been a blessing, because we’ve had that mutual respect from day one and that desire to accept each other as individuals.”