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Welcoming Ukrainians to London: a year on

Ukraine flag
Ukraine flag

The UK government launched Homes for Ukraine on 14 March 2022, a scheme to resettle Ukrainians in the UK following Russia’s invasion of the country. Here, two of our funded partners - St Mary’s Ukrainian School and East European Resource Centre - provide their reflections a year on.

St Mary's Ukrainian School

St Mary's Ukrainian School has supported the Ukrainian community in London since 1955, and has grown rapidly as a sanctuary for displaced Ukrainians. This February we provided St Mary's with a grant to continue it's work providing comprehensive support to new Ukrainian arrivals. Here General Advice Support Worker, Svitlana Granovska, provides some reflections a year on.

St Mary's Ukrainian School Warm Space provides an introductory space for Ukrainians temporarily resettled to the UK because of the ongoing war in Ukraine. We are here for them to address any possible questions that they may raise or issues that they may have.

We never say we don’t know. We let them know we'll help them or find someone who can help.

The main issue at the moment is housing, with many refugees approaching the end of their six month stay with their hosts. We also receive a lot of requests for English courses, and support with understanding the process to apply for school places. With our expertise, we are able to work closely with their local authority to address their issue.

People come with various issues and there is always a first time you face something unknown.

For example, recently a lady walked in who very unfortunately got stuck in the UK while visiting her husband when he had an aneurism and was admitted into hospital. She was granted only a couple of free nights by the hospital at a hotel and was then left completely on her own, no relatives or friends, totally distressed, awaiting the news on the state of her husband daily. She came to see us often, for help and for comfort. A local priest, who himself came as a refugee last year, took her in temporarily. But because she did not come on the Ukrainian Scheme, she could not use either the benefits or any other state help at that point. She also had no place to return to in Ukraine, being from Mykolaiv herself, and was advised to transfer to the program from within the UK. She is now in the process of applying for it and is awaiting the decision, as well as monitoring her husband’s health.

No case is big or small and they vary greatly in expertise needs. We are stretched but we always aim to provide help for everyone.

Ukrainians are hardworking and often highly qualified, but the lack of understanding of how the system works, where the entry point is for a particular case and the insufficient levels of spoken English drive them to us in numbers. They do feel frustrated because Ukrainians are used to being independent and to solving problems on their own. They feel uncomfortable asking for help. When they come to us, they don’t feel this barrier. We speak Ukrainian, we understand them, we support them. It’s important that they keep their dignity at all times.

One might think that the enquiries would fall after almost a year after the war but they have increased instead, as people slowly settle in, lift their heads above their daily worries and the news that keeps coming from Ukraine. We are always here to help them at the Warm Space, as long as it takes before they can go back home.

St Mary's Ukrainian School handing out advice

East European Resource Centre

East European Resource Centre (EERC) is one of the leading migrant-led organisations in London. Following the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, we increased our funding to the team to provide advice to displaced Ukrainians arriving in London.

The war in Ukraine hit our organisation particularly hard. Here at EERC we all are Eastern European, so immediately extending support to our neighbours in Ukraine was an imperative. In a very timely manner Trust for London awarded us a grant to provide immigration advice, assistance and outreach. This funding, together with emergency funds from other funders, allowed us to provide help to over 200 Ukrainian evacuees in London so far.

Of those, 50 individuals have received immigration advice and assistance. This work has spanned a range of issues, from helping people evacuating from Ukraine to apply for humanitarian visas, applying for extension visas for Ukrainian nationals stranded in London, providing advice and support to those who choose to apply for asylum in the UK, to assisting users in ongoing difficulties with managing immigration status with the Home Office.

Immigration remains one of the key stumbling blocks for Ukrainian evacuees in the UK.

Ukrainian humanitarian visas expire after 3 years and don’t lead to any form of settlement. This is a huge detriment to any integration efforts among our Ukrainian users and it must be changed. Better, longer term security will allow people to feel more settled, gain a sense of control and plan theirs and their children's future in the UK until the war ends and the rebuilding of Ukraine starts.

East European Resource Centre Brent outreach for Ukraine