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Homes for Ukraine: By Angela Nolan, Homecare Nurse

As with many people in the UK, my husband and I watched the events unfolding in the Ukraine, feeling totally helpless. When the government announced that families in the UK could sponsor individuals or families to stay in their homes, we decided it was something we had to do. Our adult children had flown the nest and left us with the space to be able to offer a family refuge from the war.

I registered on the Homes for Ukraine Facebook page and within days, was approached asking if we could take in two female adults and a child. We immediately accepted. We ‘met’ over Whatsapp video and agreed to start the process. The visa application process was long, complicated and tedious. But eventually all applications were submitted.

We had to complete a DBS check each and have a house check to approve it to be suitable for the guests. It was a long and difficuilt journey to get the visas approved. Finally, the letters containing their permission to travel letters arrived when I was away on a remote Scottish island with scarce internet access. I managed to ring the family, who were living in precarious conditions, still in Ukraine. They were shocked, scared and excited all at the same time.

We had been preparing our home ready for our new guests for the preceding months and all was ready. I had provided everything I could think of to make them as comfortable as possible, including electric blankets and toys for the little girl. Often there was no power, no heating and no water and with temperatures falling to minus one degree, it really was time for them to get out.

Their journey out of Ukraine was very dangerous. It took 24 hours on a cramped bus with everything they wanted to save crammed into two suitcases, just to reach the Polish border. Then a wait of three hours to get papers checked etc. A further four hours to reach Krakow and the airport. We went to meet them at Manchester airport. It was an extremely emotional moment. They were tired, scared and looked shell-shocked.

Oksana 36, Tatiana (Oksana’s mother) 61 and Marianna 8 (Oksana’s daughter) (names changed to protect their identities) have now been with us for just over 3 weeks. What wonderfully warm people they are! So far, we have loved every minute. We feel like they are part of our family already and the experience has enriched our lives.

Life is much different here than in Ukraine, notwithstanding the war. They had an expectation of England as being akin to Utopia. Unfortunately, we have had to disabuse them of that preconception. With talk on the news of strikes and vast increases in energy prices, fuel and food prices, they are shocked at the economic recession striking this country.

As we struggle with heating costs alongside everyone else, our guests are shivering under fleecy blankets and the thickest dressing gowns I could find – that, in November with temperatures still well above freezing. In Ukraine, the government pays for and switches on the heating in winter for 24 hours a day. Their apartments are small and extremely warm!

Oksana and Marianna have perfect English but Tatiana doesn’t speak any. And so, I am learning Ukrainian, in an effort to be able to communicate with her. We are learning a lot from them including some very interesting dishes! They are excited to see everything, especially Manchester United, in particular hoping to get Ronaldo’s autograph!

People have been so kind, sending packages of items, such as mascara, a hairdryer and beautifully warm hats and scarves that have brought smiles and happiness to these ladies. Preston Basketball Team have been so kind as to offer Marianna free basketball sessions and even gave her a free jersey.

Marianna is still having some online lessons provided by her teachers when they can, although these are hit and miss and depend on power outages and missile strikes. There are sad times, especially when hearing about strikes and fatalities near their region. I think it is sinking in now that it may be some time before they can return home.

But I can honestly say, it is one of the best experiences of my life and I’ll treasure this time with them forever. It has taught us how lucky we are and how perfect strangers can become family members even in horrendous times like those of the Ukraine war.

Angie Nolan

Homecare Nurse