A Ukrainian mum cried at the kindness of strangers after a man bought her a new camera, laptop and Photoshop subscription.
Olena Nazarenko, who was a photographer in Ukraine before fleeing to the Wirral when war broke out, met the man through Facebook thanks to Refugee Assist, a local group helping to clothe and support refugees and asylum seekers. Olena said: “It’s wonderful, all my dreams are of wanting to do photography. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I hug these people. I’ll remember the people who’ve helped me for all my life.”
She and her four-year-old daughter Anastasiia are among the more than six million people who’ve left Ukraine since Russian forces invaded on February 24. Roughly 65,700 arrived in the UK by May 29, with many of them housed with volunteer hosts like the Chew family in Bebington
Elizabeth Chew, the 32-year-old granddaughter of Palestinian refugees, felt she had to do something while watching news of the war, so she signed up to take in a family from Ukraine. The A&E doctor and mum-of-two said its been a “positive experience” she’d “definitely do again, but it’s been hard”.
It was a struggle to find a nursery place for Anastasiia, but eventually they found somewhere able to offer nine of the 15 free hours she’s entitled to each week, “which was very frustrating for Olena because early years education in Ukraine is free”. But now she has a school place for September, and Olena is keeping herself busy with weekly Refugee Assist meetings and trips to the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Liverpool.
Olena said: “I’m glad my daughter is now happy and smiling. She plays with Elizabeth’s daughter and we’ve started learning English. I’m happy, but I’m sometimes sad when I think of Ukraine and I speak to relatives. I’m worried about my country.”
Elizabeth, whose daughter is the same age as Anastasiia, said: “I think there is an expectation among a lot of sponsors that it’s all going to be easy, that they come and then you apply for Universal Credit and then that’s kind of it. Once you’ve helped them do the forms, it’s all the fun stuff, like you get to show them Chester Zoo, whereas actually, every week, there are two or three appointments that you’ve got to go to.”
Unbowed by the experience, Elizabeth is determined to do more to help people fleeing Ukraine. Along with 25 others under the umbrella of community sponsorship group Restart on the Wirral, she’s raising money to house more refugee families in the area.
Launched by the Home Office in 2016 for Syrian refugees, the Community Sponsorship Scheme allows local people to help resettle refugees in their area. Largely through Facebook events and WhatsApp groups, Restart on the Wirral has so far raised roughly £10,000 of the £15,000 they need to set a refugee family up with private housing, interpretation and English lessons.
Elizabeth has her reservations about the scheme, saying the government should do more to provide for and protect refugees, but she wants to do what she can to help and encouraged others to do the same. She said: “I want people to know that it is rewarding. It’s a good thing to do, and it’s also hard.
“If you don’t think you’ve got space in your life for it, don’t even think about it. And if you don’t feel like you can do it, then another very good way to get involved is to get involved with a community sponsorship group, either directly by volunteering or you can donate to them. That’s a very good way to help refugees from anywhere on the globe, not just Ukraine.”