Ukrainians give emotional thanks to Britons on war anniversary

King Charles visits Ukraine refugee centre in Romania in 2022

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“I know what a big commitment it is to welcome a mum and her child into your home,” a 38-year-old mother of one said as she watched her beloved Ukraine attacked by Russia. Like many thousands of Ukrainians who were forced to leave their homes as Russia’s tanks rolled into the country on this day last year, Olha, an English and German student who had been studying in Kherson before despot Vladimir Putin’s invasion, now lives a peaceful life in Britain. And while she and others now call Britain home, they can count themselves among the lucky ones, as thousands are still struggling to find a place to live.

Olha, speaking to the BBC, described herself as “very lucky” to be in Belper, a quaint market town in Derbyshire. She had been staying with family as Putin shocked the West with his decision to invade.

She said: “We have stayed with three families while we have been here, and they were all so welcoming. When we arrived people were kind and donated clothes and a school uniform.”

She said her “daughter did not speak any English” on their arrival, but integrating herself within the culture, the seven-year-old “quickly learned” and “speaks full sentences and is now settled at the school”.

Olha added: “We feel safe here and we know we are very fortunate.”

It is a gratefulness shared by many of the 161,000 Ukrainians who have fled to Britain since last year, as part of the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme. But many still have struggled to secure visas, being forced to turn to local councils so as not to become homeless.

According to a report from the Department of Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities, 4,295 Ukrainian households in England were forced to take such action by January 27, 2023.

The data was analysed by the Refugee Council, which provides support and advice to refugees and asylum seekers, which hailed the “remarkable” number of Ukrainians being able “to find safety in our country”.

Enver Solomon, the organisation’s chief executive officer, described how Britons “responded in line with the British values by opening their homes to Ukrainians in their hour of need”.

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However, he told “But it is very worrying that an increasing number of Ukrainian refugees are now facing homelessness in the UK.

“These are people who have endured unimaginable trauma fleeing war in their homeland, and they must have a place to call home to help them heal and rebuild their lives. It’s vital that they are now supported to find their own homes in our local communities.”

Polling across Britain varies when it comes to whether more should be done to resettle Ukrainians on our shores following the war, with the general consensus from some data showing that the UK, ravaged by its own cost-of-living crisis, was becoming less enthused by those affected by the war.

Yet, in January, Britain’s anger at Putin’s Russia was made clear when 80 percent of Britons asked demanded Moscow be axed from sporting events, saying the country must support sovereign countries when they are attacked and that more refugees should be taken in as a result of the conflict.

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And for those who now see Britain as their home, albeit temporarily while they continue to dream of returning back to their homes, the respect shown by their new families and friends will never be forgotten.

This includes Pavlo Romaniukha, who moved to Sheffield in May last year, with his wife Rymma Parkhomenko-Romaniukha and their 10-year-old son, Dmytro.

He is fearful of “who would be next” were Ukraine to lose, outlining his wish that British people “don’t need to fight in this war”. He told The Independent: “If we don’t win we will still fight. It will be years and years and years and what will be next?

“The Ukraine people never say ‘we give up’, never. We still don’t understand why he would want to invade our country because, before, we lived like good neighbours.

“Can you imagine Scotland invading your country, or you invading Scotland?”

Sheffield is one of the many locations across Britain to welcome refugees, with the Yorkshire city seeing 700 of them settle within the last year.

Mr Romaniukha added: “English people for me are like an example of kindness. They open their houses to strangers.”

Britain is like many of its European and Western allies and neighbours, supporting those in need. Since the invasion last year, around eight million refugees fled Ukraine for countries in Europe.

Some 2.9 million travelled to Russia, data from Statista Research Department showed earlier this week.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reiterated Britain’s stance of being “committed” to helping Ukraine defend itself, but concerns over the fate of those settled in the country were also questioned.

In a statement on Wednesday, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “Now was the time for Ukraine to seize the opportunity to make real progress on the battlefield and further demonstrate to Putin that Ukraine would ultimately win, the leaders agreed.

“Discussing the equipment required to help Ukraine defend and advance its position, the Prime Minister said he remained committed to ensuring Ukraine had the capabilities they needed, both now and in the future.”

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