Long Read: Meet the Londoners offering up their homes for Ukrainian refugees

LondonWorld spoke to families and individuals who are hoping to welcome Ukrainian refugees into their homes.

Londoners have told how they are opening up their homes to refugees via the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

A week after its launch more than 150,000 people in Britain have registered their interest in becoming a host.

This comes as more than 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled the country, following the Russian invasion, according to United Nations data.

It is the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, with Poland taking in more than two million refugees since the beginning of the conflict.

But some people in the UK have described the process as frustrating and have warned of a lack of safeguarding.

LondonWorld spoke to families and individuals who are hoping to welcome Ukrainian refugees into their homes.

Elsa De Jager and her partner Angus Collins

Elsa De Jager

37-year-old mother-of-two Elsa lives in Battersea and is the director of a hotel group

Elsa is hoping to welcome a Ukrainian mother Yana and her daughter Alisa into her home in Battersea.

However, she says she has found the process incredibly complicated and noted a lack of safeguarding.

She told LondonWorld: “When I signed up for the Homes of Ukraine scheme, my impression and that of everyone else who signed up was that they match you with someone and that’s how the process will work.

“But if you read the website it says you are required to find someone in Ukraine yourself.

“If you’re social media savvy you will be able to figure something out but most people who have signed up for the scheme are not necessarily going to be on lots of Facebook groups.”

She added: “It’s a really complicated process to find someone and then you have to go through the application with them.”

Elsa found her match through social media and has been helping her mother, who is also hoping to host a whole family, with her application.

“She’s going to be hosting a mother and her three children under six who are currently in Krakow,” Elsa said.

“She sent me all of her passport information, including her children’s.

“It’s lucky that I’m a real legitimate person because it’s just so dangerous.”

Russians protest against Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine but in Krakow, Poland, not Russia, where they would be quickly arrested (Picture: Omar Marques/Getty Images)

Elsa said delays with the scheme were frustrating.

“I’ve only heard of two visas approved so far out of all of the thousands of people who have applied,” she said.

“The horror of all of this is that my lady is waiting in a shelter in Ukraine for her visa to come through.

“I have a room for her here, everything is ready for her but there are so many obstacles.”

Elsa said she felt compelled to sign up for the scheme as it’s always been something close to her heart.

She said: “I’ve worked with refugees for quite a while. A few years ago I went to Lesbos in Greece during the height of the Syrian crisis.

“My father was a refugee when he was little from Egypt, in the 1950s.”

Elsa’s match Yana is still in western Ukraine waiting for her visa application to come through.

She plans to take a bus to Slovakia or Hungary and then take a flight to London.

Wendy Sloane with her mother Davina who was an evacuee during World War 2

Wendy Sloane

58-year-old mother-of-three Wendy Sloane lives in Muswell Hill and is an associate professor of journalism at London Metropolitan University

Wendy Sloane signed up for the scheme as her mother was an evacuee during the Second World War and was sent to live with three different families in the United States.

She is hoping to welcome a Ukrainian mother and her five-year-old son into her home in Muswell Hill.

“My mother was sent to the States when she was five and she didn’t return home till she was 11,” Wendy said.

“She lived with three different foster families in Washington DC and Boston.

“Obviously it had a very big impact on her life. She was sent away with her brother but he was six years older and they were sent to different families.

“They saw each other occasionally but that was it.

“She was really on her own.”

Wendy said her mum’s experience inspired her to want to help.

She said: “Her last two families were absolutely amazing but her first one was abusive and horrible.

“I think the main reason I wanted to take someone in, especially with a small child, was to make sure that they didn’t end up in an abusive situation - as you never really know what people are getting into.”

A man collects clothes from the remains of a house in the city of Zhytomyr, northern Ukraine (Picture: Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images)

Wendy said the scheme was a huge leap of faith for both parties as you need to send passports and documents to a complete stranger to complete the visa application.

She said: “I’ve been matched with someone because her friend who emigrated here about a decade ago put a post on Facebook saying a woman and her five-year-old boy were looking to be matched with a family in London.

“Her friend in London is driving to the border to get them.

“My match is a Russian speaker and I speak Russian as I was a Russian correspondent for six years.

“I’ve been helping her through Telegram in Russian by filling out her forms.”

She also added that the scheme shouldn’t be exclusive to just Ukrainian refugees.

“I did feel a bit bad that we are rushing to take in Ukrainian refugees, when there are so many other refugees who need help,” Wendy added.

“I’ve been volunteering at an asylum seekers drop-in run by a local synagogue which, before Covid-19, used to run every month.

“There are so many people displaced from other countries.

“Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and other Soviet republics, not just Ukraine.

“People from Russia as well, people who have been beaten up and forced to leave the country because they’re gay.”

Poet and novelist Sue Hubbard

Sue Hubbard

Poet, novelist and journalist Sue Hubbard lives in Islington

Sue Hubbard says she felt compelled to sign up for the scheme as if she had to flee war she would want someone to help her.

Sue said: “I’ve done lots of work with refugees, so this is not the first time. I’ve raised money to take stuff to the Calais jungle.

“I made a big petition years ago when the first group of people were crossing the Mediterranean and were drowning, which had 350,000 signatures.

“Recently I raised money for Afghanistan.

“I think it’s what we ought to do. I’m not particularly wonderful or anything, but I just think if I was in that situation I would want somebody to help me.”

Sue has described the whole process as complex.

“It’s certainly not straightforward doing it,” she said.

“It’s a jungle. The government website is useless, you register and nothing happens, there’s no helpline.”

People in London show solidarity with UK (Image: Getty Images)

She added: “It’s like the wild west out there.

“It’s very difficult to find someone - you either can’t get in touch with anyone or you’re flooded with requests.

“How do you decide? It’s open to exploitation too.

“It’s easy to sign up to but then there’s no scheme once you sign up. It’s all unregulated.”

Sue is still hoping to be matched with someone and has been speaking to a few individuals in Ukraine she has found through Facebook groups.

“If I was on the run I would want someone to do it for me,” she said.

A government spokesperson said: “We are moving as quickly as possible to ensure that those fleeing horrific persecution in Ukraine can find safety in the UK through the Family Scheme and our new Homes for Ukraine scheme.

“The Home Office has already acted to streamline the visa application process and we are looking to simplify this further.

“The first visas were granted last weekend and we will set out full details of the visas granted through this scheme next week.”

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