Joe Place, a British 29-year-old PhD student and content writer from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and his wife Iryna, a 34-year-old Ukrainian working as a content manager, left their home in Kyiv in February to escape the conflict in the country.
Mrs Place had received a Ukraine Family Scheme visa and because the couple had this and employment in the UK they could not then apply for the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Initially house-hopping between family and friends after arriving in the UK, Mr Place told the PA news agency they looked for a long-term place to live in Sheffield or Nottingham but were met with “terrible” housing conditions, high costs and rental requirements they could not meet.
After struggling for seven months to find a permanent home, the couple returned to Ukraine in September and are now living in the western city of Uzhhorod – despite the prospect of electricity and heating outages due to Russian missile strikes.
“This comes to the problem that everyone in the UK seems to be facing with finding (a rental),” Mr Place said.
“We doubled our budget and more … we had a very strict list of requirements and we just kept going ‘OK, well, compromise on this, compromise on this, compromise on this’.
“Anything we got even remotely close to getting was just terrible.”
The couple had arrived in Western Ukraine for a short visit to see family in September, but decided to stay as a result of the UK housing issues they faced.
“We realised we actually quite like it back here, and we’re OK,” Mr Place said.
“We wouldn’t want to live back in Kyiv right now because it’s not safe, but where we are it is very safe, mostly anyway.”
Mr Place said because Russia has been hitting Ukrainian infrastructure with missile strikes, they are prepared for electricity and heating outages.
“They’re trying to get people to get prepared that you might lose the electricity and heating for a bit,” he said.
“That is something that is going to affect all of us, and that’s going to be difficult.”
The couple, who met while they were both teaching English in Ukraine in 2019, will continue to go “back and forth” to the UK to see friends and family and for Mr Place’s work – but the majority of this he is doing remotely in Ukraine.
Mr Place said it would cost them up to £1,500 a month to rent in the UK, compared with £500 in Ukraine, and housing agencies and landlords were asking for a previous year’s tax statement or six months of income in a UK bank account, which they could not provide.
He said money the couple already had in their Ukrainian bank accounts was not accepted and landlords had been repeatedly turning down their applications.
“(£500 is) kind of expensive here (in Ukraine),” he said.
“The west of Ukraine, where it’s safer, the house prices have gone up quite a lot and the rents have gone up – a lot of the locals struggle.
“But obviously for us coming from the UK … this is still really affordable.”
Mrs Place was on a Ukraine Family Scheme visa but said she did not receive the same amount of support from the government as those on the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
We've just uprooted our entire lives to come to the UK, we could also do with some help
“It’s been incredible (the Homes for Ukraine scheme) … I hope we continue this approach for other crises,” Mr Place said.
“But I do think there was a bit more support for that scheme. With the family scheme there is a presumption that you will just stay with a spouse or child or people already settled here.
“No, we’ve just uprooted our entire lives to come to the UK, we could also do with some help.”
Mr Place said there is a “possibility” he and his wife will decide to return to the UK next spring, but they do not want to plan far ahead because of the war.
“For now we are quite happy being here,” he added.
A government spokesperson said: “Taken together, our generous Homes for Ukraine and Ukraine Family schemes are one of the fastest and biggest visa programmes in UK history, with over 196,000 visas issued and more expected to come through these uncapped routes.
“We expect Ukrainians entering the UK through the Ukraine Family Scheme to be primarily supported by family members, but they are also entitled to three years’ leave to remain and full access to work, study and benefits — including Universal Credit.
“Local authorities have a duty to provide support to people on the family scheme, including homelessness where required.”