Ahead of Ukrainian Independence Day on Wednesday 24 August, Woking Borough Council is urging new host families to come forward to support Ukrainian refugees fleeing their homeland and seeking safety.
The day will also mark six months since the Russian invasion began.
Since then, 250 Ukrainian refugees have settled across the borough under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, thanks to the generosity of local residents.
The scheme matches local hosts with refugees who are fleeing the war and are seeking safety. A host family receives £350 per month for providing a home and support to their guests.
Roy Butcher and his wife were just one of many kind-hearted local residents who have welcomed Ukrainian refugees to their home during the crisis.
Explaining his experience as a host, Mr Butcher said: “My wife and I had met and worked with students from Ukraine including our current guest (Yana) who we had previously taught English to remotely. We were happy to accommodate her when she asked if we would host her on the scheme.
“Yana has a positive, outgoing and enthusiastic personality, always smiling and keen to contribute as a member of the family. This, and her ability to be independent, has made the experience of being her host a pleasure.
“As members of her family continued to suffer the effects of the Russian invasion, we tried to understand how best to support her and to alleviate her concerns. She has been able to keep in contact with many of her family members via the internet, although unfortunately, much of the news she receives continues to be distressing.”
Mr Butcher continued, “We have been most impressed by the support provided by Woking Borough Council, the quality of the communications and the responses we have had to any questions asked.
“Even with a guest as confident as Yana, being a host is more than just letting out a spare room. Hosts must spend time supporting their guest(s) in other ways like helping them set up a bank account, register with a GP, apply for work and purchasing essential items such as a phone. In this respect, the monthly payment to the host has been appreciated.
“Having one or more people join a household does cause change in routines, responsibilities and requires the forging of new understandings and relationships. However, if you have the space, I recommend anyone considering to be a host to sign up. Ukrainian people are very family oriented, respectful and polite. It is a very rewarding experience.
Ivanna (Yana), now in full-time employment as an administrator with a private business school in London, added, “Woking is similar to where I grew up in Ukraine, I spent a lot of time in the village with my grandparents, so it feels like home.
“Your life changes completely when you move country, and this was a challenge for me, so I am very grateful for my host family who provide me with huge support. I feel like I have my second parents, even their ages are similar to my parents. I value them as a very special people in my life.
“On behalf of Ukrainians I would like to thank British people for supporting us in such a difficult time. You’re helping refugees like myself feel that we’re not alone in this world.”
Cllr Ellen Nicholson, Woking Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Living Well, said: “I’d like to thank all Woking residents who have welcomed our Ukrainian residents into the borough with open arms. Our thoughts and feelings of compassion continue to be with the people of Ukraine, and their families and friends that live in our borough.
“We are urging local residents to help Ukrainian refugees, like Yana, who are finding their feet in another country in these unprecedented times. Offering a home is a temporary arrangement but will change the lives of those seeking safety from war. This Ukrainian Independence Day, if you can offer your support, please do get in touch.”
The Ukrainian flag flies proudly above the Civic Centre as the council stands with Ukraine in this crisis and proudly marks Ukrainian Independence Day.
Residents interested in becoming a host and supporting Ukrainian refugees should visit www.gov.uk/register-interest-homes-ukraine