A very special Christmas with Ukrainian guests

Ukrainians need a safe space to call home and their hosts make ‘friends for life’ as the Homes for Ukraine program opens the door to a whole new world

With a lump in her throat and visibly emotional, Olivia says this Christmas will be very special. For the first time, she and her family will share it with Ukrainian guests. Olivia is outgoing and has lots of friends, and she’s also close to her family. But until recently, she lived alone, in a large apartment. That changed when Daria and her daughter Alina moved in.

Shocked by the images of destruction and chaos in Ukraine, Olivia decided to join the Homes for Ukraine program through a charity that matched her with a small family. Olivia met Daria and Alina via video conference and the three felt an instant connection from the first meeting.

Communication was a bit difficult at first, but Alina speaks good English and after Daria brushed up on the English she learned when she was younger, Olivia and her guests managed to understand each other well.

During the first weeks after Olivia’s guests arrived, she helped them sort out some of the practicalities of living in a new country, such as opening a bank account, accessing universal credit and finding a school for Alina. Simple things like showing them how to use public transport helped her guests maintain a sense of freedom.

Over the past few months, Daria’s English has improved and she can now do more things on her own. She even found a job in the kitchen of a small restaurant, while Alina started grade 7 at a local high school where she made new friends.

Olivia feels that Daria and Alina have been great company for her, and her apartment is now very much alive and feels like a real home. Olivia invited her guests to spend Christmas with her family this year.

“My family is very happy that Daria and Alina are sharing Christmas with us. It’s very sad for them not to be with their family on Christmas, but they said they found a second family with me. Those words meant the world for me.

Like Olivia, this Christmas many British families will have special guests to share in the festivities. It was in March 2022 that the British government launched Accommodation for Ukraine, an unusual refugee program that allows British citizens to sponsor visas for Ukrainians fleeing conflict and take them home for at least six months. From 29e November 105,945 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK through the scheme.

Houses for Ukraine have proven to be much more than providing accommodation. Ukrainians need a safe space to call home, and their hosts describe making “friends for life” as it opens the door to a whole new world of culture and language.

In an effort to support Homes for Ukraine hosts and guests, a team of researchers from the Institute for Superdiversity Research (IRiS) at the University of Birmingham, in consultation with Ukrainian guests and with input from officers from the Upgrading Department, Housing and Communities, produced a toolkit. The toolkit brings together all key information, official documents, website links and resources produced for Homes for Ukraine by different stakeholders, all on one platform. It is essentially a one-stop-shop for hosts, guests, and other interested parties.

The toolkit includes a checklist of factors that hosts and guests might consider when matching, as well as during each of the key phases of relocation – before arrival, the first weeks after arrival, and the medium and long term integration process. It also includes advice on how to have difficult conversations for hosts and guests, as well as a list of resources from local authorities and Facebook support groups set up in the four UK countries.

The holiday season is an emotional and challenging time of year for many. Focusing on home and spending time with friends and family can be overwhelming for those who have had to leave Ukraine. If you’re hosting guests from Ukraine and including them in your Christmas celebrations, the toolkit can provide resources and tips that can help make the Christmas season a more positive memory for everyone.

The toolbox is available in English and Ukrainian.

* The case study used is true and typical. Only names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.

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