With South Norfolk Council renewing their appeal for new hosts to come forward to provide homes for Ukrainian families, we hear the perspectives of a mother fleeing war and a local couple who answered the call back in January.
Kateryna (Kate), who now works as a translator, takes up the story:
“More than half a year ago, me and my 6-year-old daughter had to leave our homeland -Ukraine - in search of safety. Our home city is located very close to the border with Belarus and Russia, which means a constant threat of bombings and terrorist attacks. My daughter was not able to attend school normally, play with her friends and have the wonderful childhood she deserved.
Without access to electricity and the Internet for most of the day, I managed to apply for a visa under the "Home for Ukrainians" Scheme. When the program representatives helped me contact a host family in England, I was very happy. This is how I first met Mr Martyn Lemon and his family.
After a month of waiting I received permission to travel to Great Britain and in January 2023 we flew to London where Martyn and Lyn were waiting for us. It is hard to describe how much care and attention they gave us, how much support and encouragement we received from the very beginning of our stay. Such a display of selfless care pleasantly impressed us, giving us hope for a better future.
The first months of our stay at Martyn’s house were difficult for my daughter, who did not speak English at all, her adaptation at school was difficult but short-termed. No matter what difficulties we used to face, Martyn and Lyn always supported us by giving advice, providing all possible resources to start a normal and happy life here.
Gradually we got used to the new environment, I continued to work as a Ukrainian translator, my daughter began to make progress at school, she learned English very well - now she does not need my help at all while communicating with classmates or adults. She made new friends and feels welcomed and valued. This is an incredible achievement and it’s so heartwarming to me as her mother.
Recently, in my home city, the Russian army committed a terrorist act by launching a rocket at the theatre in the very centre of the city in the middle of the day on a weekend. Many people were injured, among them many wounded and killed, including children. I could not be more grateful to Martyn’s family that my daughter is now safe in England, enjoying a happy childhood under the peaceful skies of Norfolk.
Without exaggeration, I can say that I feel at home here, our hosts have become our family, we spend a lot of time together and created lots of happy memories that stay in our memory and heart forever. No matter where the future takes us, my daughter and I will remember Martyn and his family as our near and dear people and a part of my heart will always remain in Norfolk, where we felt loved, cared for and safe.”
But what of their hosts? How did Mr Lemon and partner Lyn come to open up their home to people who are effectively strangers? Martyn picks up the story:
“I remember watching the news and hearing that the government needed people in the UK to host families fleeing the war in Ukraine. I thought to myself, we’ve got a bungalow with a spare room (now my youngest has finally moved out!) We could do this.
I logged onto the UK government website and applied through there. Very quickly they arranged a Zoom call for us to meet virtually. Once we’d familiarised ourselves with each other, Kate simply asked ‘Can we come to you?’ and I said ‘Yes.’
We went down to Stansted where Kate and her daughter were due to arrive on their flight from Lódz in Poland. It was late by 4 hours but when we were waiting at arrivals we recognised them immediately when we saw Kate’s little girl walking through holding a mini Ukrainian flag. It was very bittersweet.
The first few days were just spent settling them in. Luckily, Kate’s English is fantastic and her daughter is clearly a chip off the old block, because hers has come on leaps and bounds. We got her into a local school and it’s been great watching her find her feet there.
Our first official 6 months has expired but we’re in no hurry for Kate to leave. Her friends back home send through some really quite horrific images of what’s going on over there. It’s a different world that thankfully people over here haven’t had to experience in generations.
We all really hope for peace. Kate wants to return as soon as it’s clear it’s safe for the long term. We dream of being able to go and visit her in her hometown, so she can show us around.
If you’ve been thinking about hosting a Ukrainian family, all I would say is don’t be nervous, you can do it! The government agencies have been brilliant making everything happen from their end. There are still people who need our help and I know people around here will be willing and able. Go for it. You’ll never look back.”
South Norfolk are running roadshows throughout September including Wymondham, where you can find out more information about what it’s like to host a Ukrainian family. Please see their link here.