The west London families preparing to host Ukrainian refugees

Image above: Mat, Anna and son Malakai

One of the many families whose refugee is waiting for a visa

Over the past couple of weeks Mat has been moving boxes of stuff out of his study and stowing them, neatly labelled, around his bedroom. His erstwhile study is well on the way to becoming a guest bedroom so he and his partner Anna and son Malakai can host a Ukrainian refugee.

About a hundred families have signed up so far in LB Hounslow to do the same. When the UK Government announced the Homes for Ukraine scheme on 14 March and opened the visa application scheme in the same week, the policy changed from Ukrainian refugees only being able to come and live with family here to being able to live with anyone who would agree to host them.

Applications flooded in. As of last Friday, official figures showed 32,200 people have applied for the visas and 4,700 have been granted, but only 500 of those granted Homes for Ukraine visas so far have come to the UK, according to The Times newspaper. Around 200,000 British people have reportedly volunteered themselves as hosts.

The process is a minefield for vulnerable young women seeking sanctuary, but it is not entirely straightforward for potential hosts either. The Chiswick Calendar has been talking to Mat and Anna about the process – how you go about it and what to expect.

Q: Why have you decided to do this?

“Like everyone who has responded to the scheme we’ve been hugely affected by what we’ve seen on TV. I feel very lucky to have a stable home and a good long-term relationship. I feel privileged and I want to give back.”

Q: How have you set about finding the person you will host?

“We started by researching Facebook groups. There are lots of different groups that have been set up. Some are better than others. It’s informal, anarchic. They’re not all endorsed by charities but I would recommend Facebook groups as a starting point to see what people are offering. My advice: type “Ukraine” into the search, click to select “groups” then go into the group with the highest number, e.g the top one here:

Images above: Facebook sites for hosting Ukrainian refugees; Aleksandra M, looking for accommodation in London

“I think the website seems very good. They have updated recently to require identification checks, presumably to protect people moving forward.”

Typical of the kind of entry is this one from Alexandra M: ‘I’m looking for a sponsor in London. I already found a job here and searching for a sponsor for a visa. I’m a software developer.’

“They tend to be young women and children in the main. Older women take the view they’d rather stay and look after the men fighting.”

Mat and Anna got quite a long way down the path of getting to know one 19 year old Ukrainian woman in Frankfurt. They had offered her a home and applied for her visa before she changed her mind and decided she would go back to Ukraine.

Her family had chosen to give her the opportunity to leave, giving her the money to travel to friends in Germany, but they could only offer her accommodation short term. Her grandparents reckoned they were too old to leave and the rest of the family wanted to stay. None of her friends were leaving but typically, she told them, it was the youngest girl of the family who was encouraged to leave to maintain the bloodline if the others were all killed.

Image above: Mat with the family dog

“We looked through hundreds of listings”

“We looked through hundreds of people’s listings and decided instead of going through this ‘beauty parade’ we would created our own listing about ourselves and what we were able to offer. We posted it one night and woke up to 50 messages.

“None appeared in any way fraudulent. None of them asked for money. There was no hint of a scam. They just posted messages asking ‘would you consider hosting me’.”

Having followed the same process again, Mat and Anna have this week got to know another young woman through video calls and have offered their home to her. This was their listing:

The UK has opened its doors to Ukrainian refugees! We are a family of 3 living in Chiswick, West London. Main road, opposite cafes, restaurants, shops, and 5 minute walk to the river and local park.

We can provide this room, some food, transport, kindness, and even work, as we run our own business. (No experience necessary, and to be very clear our offer of a home is unconditional, it does not depend on working for us, that would be your choice and we would support you either way.)

Here are pictures of our local park (with Ukraine flag), our garden, living room, and us. We also have a small dog as well. We have signed up to the government visa scheme and ready to find someone or two people we can sponsor.

Image above: Ukrainian flag flying over St Peter’s Square

Q: What forms did you have to fill in?

“We spent about 35 minutes filling out the form with her on video phone so we could check things. The Homes for Ukraine visa application is easy, it’s uploading the documents which is the problem. It’s a disgrace, a complete farce.

“I uploaded the documents and checked six days later whether they’d got them ok. If they haven’t, you have to start the visa application process all over again. Tens of thousands of people have experienced problems with this. Many people who applied on 18th and 19th March STILL have not had their visas processed even though the Minister for Refugees, Lord Harrington, said on 15th or 17th March they were working on getting the process down to hours rather than days.”

Again on Sunday (3 April) Lord Harrington admitted the process was far too slow and promised people fleeing Ukraine would have their visa applications processed within 48 hours.

Q: What checks are done on you to make sure you are suitable hosts?

“The Council [Hounslow] has been in touch. We’re not sure what they will look for. If the visa is accepted, the person comes over irrespective of council checks. The only thing we know they require is that the person has their own closable door, not just a partition in a shared room.

“The government has given councils advice and we understand everyone in a household over the age of 16 will be required to have a criminal record check.

“I’ve gone a bit overboard. Anna and I work in schools so we already have DBS checks but I have also had a gas safety check done and an electrical safety check and a fire safety check of my own accord. I would imagine they would check that fire alarms have batteries in them and things like that, but the Council hasn’t told us anything specific.”

They haven’t heard anything about the visa for the first girl, which they applied for 15 days ago, and now they are starting the process again, but another host family in Chiswick who applied not long after them has now heard this weekend that the girl they are hosting has her visa through.

Where to apply for a visa: Apply for a visa under the Ukraine sponsorship scheme

Mat’s sponsorship guide: Mat and Anna have given this a lot of thought and Mat has put together his own sponsorship guide, which has been translated into Ukrainian and distributed on various networks: Mat’s Sponsorship Guide

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Watching the news knowing your stepson is there somewhere, fighting for the Ukrainian army

See also: “People are fearful” says Bishop of the Russian cathedral in Chiswick

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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