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Refugees from Ukraine report warm welcome

24 February 2023


Ukrainian refugees Rymma Parkhomenko-Romaniukha and Pavlo Romaniukha, with their son, Dmytro Parkhomenko-Romaniukh, at their home in Sheffield, on Wednesday  

Ukrainian refugees Rymma Parkhomenko-Romaniukha and Pavlo Romaniukha, with their son, Dmytro Parkhomenko-Romaniukh, at their home in Shef...

UKRAINAIN refugees are generally happy and settled in the UK, despite having concerns about housing and jobs, a survey has found.

Commissioned by the Sanctuary Foundation on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, the survey was answered by almost 2000 Ukrainian refugees currently in the UK.

Ninety-nine per cent said that they were grateful to be in the UK, and nine out of ten were glad to be in the UK rather than another country. Only nine per cent said that they definitely wanted to stay in the UK permanently. A further 22 per cent would “probably” seek to remain.

Thirty-eight per cent said that they would either “definitely” or “probably” return to Ukraine, but only a small proportion said that they planned to do so soon.

Several respondents referred to church communities as among those who had helped them to feel welcome.

The Sanctuary Foundation helped to facilitate the Homes for Ukraine scheme at the start of the refugee crisis, and has worked to encourage and support prospective hosts, particularly in church communities (News, 15 March 2022).

Dr Krish Kandiah, who leads the charity, told the Church Times on Tuesday that there were around 2000 churches on the Sanctuary Foundation’s mailing list. “We shouldn’t be surprised that Christians have been involved in welcoming refugees,” he said, as the story of the faith was “intimately connected with the idea of hospitality”.

A year after the outbreak of war, Dr Kandiah said, the charity had three priorities: to make sure refugees felt welcome, to help them to find work, and to secure sustainable housing for them.

Finding appropriate work was a struggle for many, the survey revealed: 53 per cent had found it their biggest challenge in the UK. More than one third were looking for employment, and a further one third were doing a lower-level job than they had been doing in Ukraine.

Sixty-one per cent said that they were proud to be able to be work, but many also reported feeling exhausted (30 per cent), frustrated (27 per cent), or humiliated (14 per cent) by their employment situation.

Dr Kandiah said that there were many challenges: some Ukrainian qualifications — for example, for medical workers — were not recognised in the UK; and most of the refugees were without the support network of their wider family, which made it difficult to balance childcare and employment.

The survey suggests that 90 per cent of Ukrainian refugees in the UK are female, most with at least one child. Sixty-five per cent of the respondents said that it was either “very” or “fairly” easy for the children to settle in the UK. Almost 80 per cent said that their child’s school had helped them to adjust.

To help refugees into work, the Sanctuary Foundation was collaborating with Salesforce to find Ukrainian women jobs in technology, which tended to more flexible, Dr Kandiah said.

Tania Orlova, a clinical psychologist who escaped Ukraine with her son at the start of the war, and is now living with a host family in Buckinghamshire, works as a project manager with a local charity, acting as a bridge between Ukrainian and British communities.

She called for better mental-health support for Ukrainians in the UK, who were often traumatised both by the experience of fleeing their homes and their fears about the safety of loved ones still in Ukraine.

“It would be a great idea if the Government could, maybe, develop programmes together with the NHS, so that they will give permission for Ukrainian psychologist or psychotherapist to support their Ukrainian compatriots,” she said.

Ms Orlova explained some of the difficulties that the refugees faced in renting a home, including high costs, but also private landlords’ reluctance to let property to a Ukrainian woman and children.

Housing was a common concern raised in the survey. Two-thirds of the refugees are currently with British host families, and 18 per cent in privately rented accommodation. Fifty-nine per cent said that they were happy with their current housing, but worried about what came next. Only 23 per cent were confident that they could stay in the long term.

Reflecting on the Homes for Ukraine scheme might mean for the future of refugee support in the UK, Dr Kandiah said that he hoped that it might encourage more people to consider hosting refugees from other parts of the world, and he referred to the many Afghan refugees who were still housed in hotels.

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