On the 24th of February 2022, Russian forces invaded Kyiv, devastating lives and displacing millions of innocent civilians. The UK responded by setting up the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme. Under this scheme, Ukrainians can live, work and have access to public funds in the UK – if a British sponsor agrees to provide accommodation for a minimum of 6 months.
In an outpouring of solidarity, the first 24 hours of the scheme saw around 100,000 British households signing up to host Ukrainian refugees. In Oxfordshire, 929 British hosts welcomed 1,956 Ukrainian guests, and one year on from the invasion, Ukrainians have become a valued part of the Oxfordshire community.
As Ukrainians began arriving in Oxfordshire in March ‘22, civil society organisations mobilised to coordinate wraparound support. Asylum Welcome contributed to this by organising education and employment support, conducting English language classes, setting up a hardship fund, providing laptops, bicycles and SIM cards, connecting community networks, and signposting Ukrainians to numerous other services.
Tamara Kurzova, the Ukrainian Community Liaison Officer at Asylum Welcome, reflects on her experiences working with Oxfordshire’s Ukrainian community.
Arriving in the UK, Tamara says, is tough. Many Ukrainians arriving in Oxfordshire are single mothers with small children. “And the UK is very different from Ukraine,” she says. “Most Ukrainians are highly educated, but language is a barrier.” She points out that the differences are sometimes isolating: “Ukrainian children, especially teenage girls, can find it difficult to make friends at school.”
On top of it all, uncertainties still hang over the community. “Sometimes people ask me questions I don’t have an answer to,” Tamara says. “Like what will happen after April 2025, when the Homes for Ukraine Scheme will be reviewed. Or they worry about their families in Ukraine, and wonder when they can be reunited.”
Despite these challenges, host families have given Ukrainian guests an overwhelming welcome. One host even tells us, “I don’t want them to leave; they have become like grandchildren to me.” The warmth is eagerly reciprocated: “I never thought that the British people would be so kind,” Tamara enthuses. “We are really grateful to the British government and people – for opening their doors and hearts to us. Letting people from another country into their homes as their own family. And sometimes saying, ‘You can stay. You can stay as long as you like.’”
Local groups have organised numerous community events to make Ukrainians feel more at home. Last year, the Thame Rotary Club organised a trip for Ukrainians to the Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens, and a party for Ukrainian children with Christmas gifts in December. The Thame Baptist Church organised a trip to Stonehenge.
Ukrainians in Oxfordshire, Tamara says, are determined to build new lives and become self-sufficient: “We are very hardworking people who are ready to work and support ourselves – we have that culture of striving for independence. We have ideas. We ran big businesses in Ukraine, and have much experience. We simply need some support to succeed here.”
Hanna, a Ukrainian mother of three, has been devoting her time to studying English online. “Thanks to Asylum Welcome I now have a laptop, and I’ve enrolled in 2 online courses,” she shares. “And we can even watch Netflix with subtitles together with my children! Which helps me to learn English quicker.”
“Many Ukrainians are securing good jobs in Oxfordshire.”
Oksana, a Ukrainian mother of two, now works at an IT company; Valentyna, a former history teacher, has secured a position at Oxford University Research Services; and Tetiana has opened a tailor shop just like the one she had in Ukraine. Progress is being won every day: “Recently a Ukrainian lady managed to rent her own property, and I helped her access funds to get it furnished,” Tamara shares. “When she called to thank me, I was really touched. Being able to help in this way, even if it’s a small thing – this is why I love my work.”
Having to mark the anniversary of an illegal and inhumane war is a tragic thing. Millions of Ukrainians have lost their livelihoods, been separated from their families, and had their lives irreversibly damaged. Yet Tamara, and the thriving Ukrainian community she is part of, have hope: “For our young people who are talented and goal-oriented, we wish for the opportunity for them to stay and build a life here if they like,” she says. “And for many of us, we hope to return to a peaceful Ukraine.”
Tamara speaks excitedly of the rolling mountains of Western Ukraine, the hearty food (like deruny, a crispy potato pancake which her daughter adores), and the strength of the people. These are all things that will endure. The invasion will not last indefinitely. In Oxfordshire, the generosity and cooperation of individuals, organisations and government has allowed Ukrainians to find freedom beyond their borders; soon, they will regain it within their own.
If you are or you know a Ukrainian person wishing to connect with the Ukrainian community in Oxfordshire, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are considering joining the hosting programme in Oxfordshire, email email@example.com