Three of the thousands of Ukrainians still living in temporary refugee centres in Warsaw, Poland, share their stories, experiences and hopes to find safety and stability in the UK
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“I dream that things are back to as they were before, that people wake up with a hope for tomorrow,” says Hanna* from Kremenchuk, Ukraine.
On 24 February 2022, the world woke up to the shocking news that Russia had launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Over a year later, the news that Russia has begun a new offensive to ‘mark’ the anniversary of this invasion has likely come as a surprise to nobody. For audiences around the world, the grim reality of the war has become normalised; the weekly news is punctuated by stories of indiscriminate Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian civilians and harrowing footage of front-line trench warfare.
For some viewers, this ‘normalisation’ has led to a sense of apathy and disinterest, often termed ‘Ukraine fatigue’ and exacerbated by the pro-Russian narratives that the war is an unwinnable, never-ending conflict that the collective ‘West’ can only prolong.
Ukraine Refugee centre in Warsaw, Poland: Photo Courtesy of USPUK
These sentiments pose a further obstacle to the thousands of displaced Ukrainians who are still looking for safety and security for themselves and their families. Although many of those who fled Ukraine did so in the first few months of the war, there are still people leaving daily, and more who are planning on doing so.
Russian missiles continue to kill civilians and devastate homes; a single strike in the city of Dnipro last month killed over 40 and left around 400 homeless as a result. These attacks and their impact on the national electricity grid have left Ukrainian homes bereft of heating, light and power for much of the day.
Speaking from a crowded refugee centre in Warsaw where she is staying with her two daughters, Hanna reflects on her hopes and fears for the future. “People don’t know… what tomorrow is going to be like. Everyone is very worried about their children…” Like thousands of other Ukrainians, she has been waiting there for months, hoping for the possibility to find safety and stability for herself and her children in the UK.
Inside the refugee centre in Warsaw. Photo Courtesy of USPUK
Nataliia*, a university lecturer in philosophy and ethics, has twice been left homeless by Russian invasions. In 2014 she was forced to leave Donetsk, the city where she was born and where her family had lived for three generations.
A year ago, she was living in Mariupol, now she does not have a home to go back to; shortly after she fled, a neighbour informed her that her house had been looted and the city was “absolutely destroyed.” She described the current conditions in Ukraine as “very difficult”, saying that “Russians are destroying power stations that give [us] electricity, light, water. People are freezing. That’s why there is a wave of new migrants who are fleeing with their children.”
Many Ukrainians have been prompted to leave by worries about their families, particularly those with children whose education has been severely disrupted by air raids and blackouts, as well as deliberate bombing of schools and civilian areas. Iryna*, from Cherkasy in central Ukraine, told us that concerns for her children’s safety and education had contributed to her decision to leave Ukraine. She described the situation in the refugee centre in Warsaw where she lives as “very hard, but safer because there is no shelling.”
Refugee Centre Privacy. Photo Courtesy of USPUK
But a year on, it is becoming increasingly difficult for refugees to find safe and secure accommodation outside of Ukraine. Many have ended up in refugee centres in neighbouring countries, living semi-permanently in cramped conditions that were only intended as temporary accommodation. Others have found themselves living in unsustainable conditions or have been asked to leave by hosts who have become unable to provide accommodation any longer.
Hanna told us that the situation for displaced Ukrainian families like hers is “very complicated. We need support because nobody knows when this will come to an end.” Both she and Nataliia can speak some English and mentioned this as a reason for why they want to come to the UK in particular. Nataliia added that the extent of British support for Ukraine and its reputation as a safe, welcoming country also contributed to her decision.
Communities for Ukraine, a scheme launched by Ukrainian Sponsorship Pathway UK (USPUK) and Citizens UK has already helped over 700 Ukrainians to find sponsors and safe homes in the UK, but for every successful case, there are many more still to come, some of whom have been waiting for months. Thousands of Ukrainians remain in refugee centres in Poland alone; Hanna, Nataliia and Iryna are just three of many.
Nataliia highlighted the gratitude felt by Ukrainians towards the UK and UK hosts but stressed the war is not yet over. “It is a very important thing to be doing – the more people can offer their help, the more lives can be saved in Ukraine, both children and adults.” Iryna added that “We would be very grateful [to a host in the UK] because help is very much needed. A lot of people are still in need of a safer place and future.”
Hanna, Nataliia, and Iryna all hope to return to their homes in Ukraine once the war is over, restart their lives there and help rebuild their country. However, for now, these women, and many others, still need support, now more than ever. The challenges posed by “Ukraine fatigue”, a new Russian offensive, and the difficult conditions facing displaced Ukrainians mean UK hosts are as important now as they were 12 months ago.
Hanna finished by saying:
“I have confidence in the future, and [my] children need to have a future, they need to wake up believing that tomorrow will be a better day… Hopefully, there will be people who can help. It’s for the better for Ukraine and the world – we need to resolve this together.”
If you are interested in becoming a sponsor with USPUK, information about applying to host and about the Communities for Ukraine scheme can be found here. If you have previously applied to sponsor Ukrainians under the government’s ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme but have not yet found anyone to sponsor, please get in touch and register with USPUK.
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.
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