Open arms and an open house

Ukrainian refugee Lilia stirs the dumpling soup with and her daughter Iryna and their host Marie Fisher in Durweston
Ukrainian refugee Lilia stirs the dumpling soup with and her daughter Iryna and their host Marie Fisher in Durweston

Across the Vale, householders have been stepping up to respond to the urgent appeal to provide help and accommodation to families escaping the conflict in Ukraine.
It’s a steep learning curve for those embarking on hosting Ukrainian families under either of the schemes now in operation, not only by establishing communication with guests, but also in negotiating the bureaucracy involved.
One of the first to welcome a group through Ukraine Dorset, set up to search for accommodation in the country and accept refugees under the family scheme, were Marie and Adrian Fisher in Durweston.
Iryna (39) and her mother Lilia (59) and 10-year-old son Damir fled their home in Kropivnyskyi in central Ukraine on the day after Putin’s military invaded their country.
Driven to the border by her brother and husband, now serving with the military, they reached London, where Lilia’s sister already live. They were met by the Fishers when they arrived in Salisbury on the family scheme.
Both adults are keen to find work while they’re here. “They are very disciplined – far more disciplined than we are – and determined,” said Marie. “Their understanding of English is limited, but we communicate by email using Google Translate.”
I found Iryna and her mother making dumpling soup, Ukrainian style, for the following day’s Nick’s Café at Durweston Church, where several Ukrainian families now meet weekly and have established good relationships with their compatriots and hosts.
Damir is now attending Durweston Primary School, but also continues his education online from his Ukraine school, which is still operating, albeit around sirens and alarms.
In nearby Shroton, a Ukraine Support Group is working to identify rented accommodation. More than 30 people gathered in the village hall, and Chris Pearson said: “There is clearly a lot of good will in the village. We hope this good will can make a generous contribution to improving the plight of Ukrainian families in crisis.”
Many more have offered accommodation. Caroline and Steve Adamson of Blandford travelled to Luton airport on Friday 6 May to meet 39-year-old teacher Marina, whose husband is in the Ukrainian army serving in the Dombas region, with her 14-year-old daughter and three-year-old son.
After 15 years offering B&B accommodation in Whitecliff Mill Street, they retired before the pandemic, but registered when the government scheme was launched and worked with Dorset Council’s resettlement team.
Over 100 people from Ukraine have arrived in Dorset so far, with 200 sponsor matched families, and potential for over 500 more in the coming weeks, through the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
“Providing a warm welcome to all those fleeing conflict and seeking asylum is well evidenced in Dorset, but it is important to be mindful of potential community cohesion issues, and exploitation,” said social services director Claire Shiels.
In her report, she explains that although the council is responsible for offering services and support to Ukrainian people when they arrive, no formal advice of their arrival or additional funding is given unless they arrive through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, under which the council receives £10,500 per year per individual.
She said the current phase of the Homes for Ukraine scheme is open to named guests only and had resulted in some hosts and refugees meeting through social media platforms, a route that was more open to abuse, and work was ongoing to make it safer and protect both hosts and guests.
“There may be additional costs to all services, but, in particular, if housing assistance is required, there will be pressure on budgets through a shortfall in the amount received for caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people.”

by Nicci Brown

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