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What is it like to host a Ukrainian family?

Date: 22 November 2022
Author: Ham resident

My wife and I decided to become hosts because, I think like many others, we found watching events unfold in Ukraine and Kyiv really moving and it was hard to imagine living through such a situation, so we wanted to help. Secondly, with our own children having left home, we have a house with enough space to accommodate people, therefore we thought ‘why not’?

The process was remarkably easy really. We were matched through a church organisation, which put us in touch with our guests and we had a conversation with them by video before they left Ukraine.

Our guests are a mother with her six-year-old son. The mother had a professional career in Kyiv where they were living with relatives who are now still there.

The son wasn’t old enough to go to school previously in Ukraine, so coming to the UK coincided with his first experience of school – that was interesting! He started school for the first time with not a word of English, but he’s a remarkably cheerful boy – he goes off to school every day looking happy and comes back happy, and that has largely been down to a brilliant welcome by the school.

The thing that surprised me most was how smooth the process was after they arrived. They had a school place allocated as soon as they arrived and the biometric visas were waiting for them in the post office - it was really remarkably smooth.

Our guests live in our two spare bedrooms and have their own bathroom, so the only shared space is the kitchen, which also serves as an office for my wife. Their living situation is pretty independent, except for cooking and eating. One of the questions on my mind before they arrived was whether our guests would expect to, or want to, eat together or socialise together. We have found generally they haven’t. Although we occasionally eat together, mostly our guests make their own food and they are sensitive to what we are doing. We typically chatter a bit around the meal times in the evening, but for the most part our guests are independent, get on with things and look after themselves, and that suits us and makes it quite relaxed.

From our experience, we think the key to success is to match the expectations of the guest and the host. I know some hosts who do expect the guests to integrate into their lives, to eat together etc. Now that’s fine, if that works for the guest and the host – however, our situation is not like that. So it’s not that there is something that makes a good host or a bad host – it’s about the compatibility of expectations between the guest and the host. Of course, you can only explore that to a degree prior to arrival, because language abilities typically aren’t good enough to explore the whole story.

We are finding the experience rewarding. It is nice having people in the house; the young lad is good fun and it’s nice to have him about. And I’ve realised I quite fancy being a grandfather! Having had children grow up and leave, it’s been fun having a youngster about, albeit one who I’m not responsible for as a parent!

His mother is good company and we are able to have interesting conversations as her English is improving rapidly – they are interesting people so there are interesting things to learn.

One of the challenges we felt early on was understanding the extent to which she would want to discuss the situation in Ukraine or the extent to which that would just be painful. We also weren’t sure how much they would wish to socialise with other Ukrainian people and the extent to which that would mean spending all their time focusing on the difficult situation at home. This is an area we’ve been feeling our way through, and no doubt that is different in every household. It’s certainly the case now that our guests do not want to spend their entire time thinking and talking about the situation in Ukraine, because they have more than enough connections to that through the phone calls with family members.

Interestingly, that was one of the points that was made by a Council officer during our second home visit – it was an interesting observation she made, that many guests seem not to want to spend all their time with other Ukrainians talking about Ukraine. They need other things to think about, otherwise it’s just too much.

If I had any tips for people new to becoming a host, it would be to talk about difficulties before they become crises. Of course, confronting topics with a guest whose English is basic is hard – it's difficult to read the underlying emotions and therefore it can take time to understand what our Ukrainian guests are thinking or feeling, or what they want. I don’t think that’s easy.

But, it’s been a happy experience for us. Our guests have been with us for two months and we have every intention of them staying with us for as long as they need. I know there is much discussion about guests moving on and finding somewhere to live independently, but I think that’s really challenging on the Ukrainian side, in many respects. They are looking forward to peace in their country and looking forward to going home, so I think it’s difficult to plan long-term in the UK.

Our young guest has had such a good experience with his school; if Ukrainians get established like this in schools in areas that are relatively high-cost to live, then it’s going to be difficult for them to earn enough money to rent their own accommodation close to the school. I can imagine that’s a difficult situation in Richmond and Twickenham, where I know there are many Ukrainian guests. That is why I really encourage other residents to consider becoming hosts, so we can make sure Ukrainian families can stay here and have stability, for as long as they need.

Find out more information about hosting Ukrainian guests.

If you think you could commit to hosting, please complete our online form and if we have a suitable match we will be in touch with you.

Find out more about the Homes for Ukraine scheme, including important information and things to think about before signing up to host.

Local authorities are responsible for the wrap-around support package for Ukrainian guests. Find out more information about support available in Richmond.

If you have any questions please email the Richmond Homes for Ukraine Team on homesforukraine@richmond.gov.uk.

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Updated: 25 November 2022