It’s been five months since my husband and I became sponsors to a Ukrainian family. Prior to arriving in the UK and since the outbreak of the war, they had been staying in Moldova. Their husband and dad had to stay behind and serve in Ukraine.
During the first month, we muddled our way through many forms and communicated thousands of words on Google Translate. Many forms and processes were not (understandably given their usual use) geared up for refugees and some of the questions were quite uncomfortable. For example, the Child Benefit form asked about the involvement of the childrens’ dad – there wasn’t an option for ‘stayed in our home country to serve’. There was also a particular challenge with the visa process. It was sent to a Post Office in London – not the pick-up point we had chosen – and meant an expensive train journey to London, missed school and work. We discovered from an official at the Post Office that all refugees and sponsors – some as far as Scotland – were having to make the same journey.
Quite quickly the two boys started school and we noticed their English improving every day. Their mum – a teacher at home in Ukraine – began working two days’ a week in a nearby bakery factory.
With the basics sorted, we turned our attention to things that might bring the family joy. The youngest boy joined a local children’s cricket team and kind friends donated a scooter, bike and hover board their own children had grown out of. His elder brother and mum signed up to the local gym and swimming pool, the latter where they spent a lot of evenings together over the summer, no doubt wanting some family time and respite from sharing a house.
In those early months, the challenges I anticipated, like sharing a single bathroom and scheduling showers for five people before work and school, didn’t materialise. Instead, different challenges emerged. For instance, cooking for five, rather than two (and tailoring meals to make them more child friendly–spoiler: less spice!) was quite a shock for me but we did start to find our groove. Occasionally (more often than I’d like to admit) I have had to remind myself that none of these inconveniences will match the challenges the family have faced and overcome.
As time has gone on, the family have begun shopping and cooking for themselves and as we approach six months – the length of the sponsorship we committed to – we’re now starting to look for rentals for them. We’re conscious that their life here won’t properly begin until they have their own accommodation as a family and similarly while my husband and I are grateful to have the space to be able to host, it will be nice to look to our own future, too.
All policy makers will need to give further thought to how we can best support sponsors and refugees as they enter this next stage. Some 100,000 refugees have arrived since the scheme launched in April and while some hosts will be prepared to sponsor for longer than the initial six months, there will be significant demand on rentals in the coming months. It’d be great to see a roadmap to properly integrate Ukrainian refugees into life here in the UK. That starts with support for securing a place of their own to call ‘home’.
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