'We just want to help': Meet the kind-hearted Brits offering their homes to Ukrainian refugees

·Breaking News Editor, Yahoo News UK
·10-min read

Selfless Britons have been offering up their homes to shelter displaced Ukrainians, as over three million refugees flee the Russian invasion.

Since the Homes for Ukraine scheme was opened in the UK, more than 100,000 households have volunteered to house people forced by war to leave their homeland.

Sponsors can nominate a named Ukrainian individual or family to stay with them in their home, or offer a separate property for them to use rent-free.

Anyone offering their home will be asked to commit to a minimum of six months, but many are already opening their homes for a refugee to use for as long as they need to reestablish their lives.

Those offering accommodation will be vetted and Ukrainian applicants will undergo security checks.

As a “thank you”, sponsors will receive payments of £350 per month, the government has said, and those offering accommodation will be asked to undergo security checks.

Yahoo News UK spoke to some of the Britons who've offered up their homes to Ukrainian refugees.

“You put yourself in their position because it’s so close to home”

Denis and Annie Marie Shields , from Airdrie in Scotland, have seen both their sons grow up and move out, and now have two spare bedrooms they hope could become a home to a parent and children.

They have offered their terraced four-bedroom property to become a long-term home for someone to reestablish their lives following Vladimir Putin’s bombardment of Ukraine.

Denis, who works as a magician and entertainer, told Yahoo News UK he and his wife had spoken about it when the invasion began, but realised “we’ve just got to do it”.

“We’re hoping to make one of the bedrooms into a living area so they might have their own space.

(Yahoo news UK/ Denis Shields)
(Yahoo news UK/ Denis Shields)

“Our two boys have grown up and left, I’ve got gym equipment in one of the rooms that I’m clearing out, we currently only have one bathroom but we’d like to get another one if we can.”

Denis and Anne Marie couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw what was happening in Ukraine, and knew they needed to do something to help.

He said: “I was watching the news from the start, watching the war from the start and it got to the stage where my wife was getting angry because I was getting so caught up with it.

“Watching these people you put yourself in their position just because it’s so close to home.

"These people were doing the same things we were doing just a few weeks ago and now they’re trudging through mud and snow to find somewhere safe.”

(Yahoo news UK/ Denis Shields)
Denis Shields said he can offer one of his spare rooms to a Ukrainian family (once he's cleared out his gym equipment). (Yahoo news UK/ Denis Shields)
(Yahoo news UK/ Denis Shields)
Another of the spare rooms in Denis's property. (Yahoo news UK/ Denis Shields)

Despite being eager to have someone in as soon as possible, Denis said the UK government has been “hopeless”

He added: “Processes should have been put in place long before now.

At the moment we have registered but that is about it.

“It is up to us to try to find a family to sponsor and on Friday if you have found someone to help I believe you have to fill in visas online for them.

“There is just not enough help in my opinion. And how are we supposed to find someone? Who helps the families that you see on the news struggling at borders and at train stations with no Facebook or even a phone. How do we get help to them?”

“We don’t have perfect lives... but we can share.”

Emma Hunneyball, 39, along with her husband Andrew and their two sons are offering a spare room in their four-bedroom home in Hednesford, Staffordshire, and are happy to house a refugee as soon as possible.

Emma told Yahoo News UK: “We don’t have perfect lives but we have a lot and we can share, and help.”

She added: “I think the appalling atrocities that you can see today being inflicted on ordinary people makes you want to help in any way that you can.

“Since we’ve got the room, why wouldn’t we help?”

“We’ve got a spare room and plenty of living space. We use our spare room as an office so we will decamp from that and squeeze into other rooms so we can work and free it up so somebody can come over and stay with us for as long as they need.”

Marina Vizerska, evacuee from Ukraine, hugs her baby after they crossed the Ukrainian-Romanian border in Siret, northern Romania, on March 16, 2022. - More than three million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the invasion, the UN migration agency IOM says. Around half are minors, says the UN children's agency. (Photo by Armend NIMANI / AFP) (Photo by ARMEND NIMANI/AFP via Getty Images)
Marina Vizerska, an evacuee from Ukraine, hugs her baby after they crossed the Ukrainian-Romanian border in Siret, northern Romania. (Getty)

But the process has not been easy, and Emma has taken to social media to try and find someone who needs help in finding safety.

“We made the decision that we wanted to help in this way pretty soon after the invasion started and people started feeling the country, but the visa situation didn’t help,” Emma said.

“I actually found the new process pretty easy, the site crashed once or twice while I was trying to get through on Monday and sign up.

“The big disappointment is that there was no co-ordination between that site and charities and people who are trying to connect you with people who need help.

“The onus is on us to find people who need help.”

Project manager Emma is putting her skills to good use in preparing for a new arrival, and says they are “ready to go”.

“Every day somebody is being displaced from that country, every day we are ready and each day that goes past is a missed opportunity for someone to have a safe home, but they’re not being given that home. It’s too slow.”

The children also understand they are opening their home to someone who needs it, with her eldest son, 13, telling his younger brother they’re helping people “whose houses are on fire”.

The boys are now eagerly awaiting their new arrival, with her youngest asking: “Mummy, when are they getting here?”

“I don't feel like I can just sit back.”

Rend and Michael Platings painted their house in the Ukrainian flag, and now plan to welcome their friend Kristina Corniuk, a Spanish teacher who is stranded in Kyiv.

The couple and their eight-year-old daughter Samantha plan to open the spare bedroom of their semi-detached home in Cambridge.

Rend, a former Iraqi diplomat who now runs Cambridge-based charity Sugarwise, said: "I don't feel like I can just sit back. I think it's our responsibility to be active citizens and fight injustice."

She added said: "The war is feeling like it's coming closer and closer to Kristina.

Rend Platings outside her house in Cambridge that is painted in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. (SWNS)
Rend Platings outside her house in Cambridge that is painted in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. (SWNS)

"Yesterday she told me that she was up all night because there were sirens and bombs.

"The next day they found out the strikes were around 200 metres from their apartment."

Rend said Kristina had stayed in Kyiv to look after her parents and 90-year-old grandfather, who is around 90 years old, but doesn’t know if they will also try to reach the UK.

"We'll be passing the government's £350 to Kristina as an allowance to get her onto her feet."

Rend described the Homes for Ukraine application form as "pretty straightforward" and said it involved sharing details about the room size and access to shared facilities like the kitchen and bathroom.

“We just want to help as soon as we can.”

Charlie Rubin, 30, and his girlfriend Constance Campbell, 25, say they want to help as soon as they can and are offering their spare loft room in Shepherd’s Bush in London to a family who needs it.

For Charlie it is particularly important, as he feels like he would be repaying the British for giving his great-grandfather sanctuary in 1919 when he fled violent Russian pogroms and massacres to settle in Manchester and going on to start a family.

Now Charlie and Constance want to offer the same opportunity to Ukrainian refugees displaced by the Russian invasion of their country.

Charlie Rubin and Constance Campbell, from Shepherd's Bush, London, in their spare room which they'll be offering to Ukrainian refugees. (SWNS)
Charlie Rubin and Constance Campbell, from Shepherd's Bush, London, in their spare room which they'll be offering to Ukrainian refugees. (SWNS)

Charlie said: "If it wasn't for the British government who allowed my great grandfather the opportunity to build a life in the UK, I wouldn't be here today.

"Over a 100 years later I'm repaying a debt to them by taking in a family myself.

"I want to do something on behalf of Britain which was done for my great grandfather, and offer as much help as I can to families fleeing the conflict.

"It's our first home, and we have a room in the loft perfect for a family to stay in.

"There's no fixed time limit we have in mind, we just want to help as soon as we can."

"I couldn't fathom fleeing my country to protect my family."

Sabrina and Tony O'Brien from East Yorkshire have opened their doors to a family of four currently stuck in Moldova, and are pleading with the government to speed up the process so they can help as soon as possible.

Sabrina signed up to a match-up scheme online and was paired with English teacher, Liliia, who has fled Ukraine with her husband and two daughters, and wants to come to the UK, to start a new life.

Sabrina said: "My family and I were incredibly shocked at what we were seeing on the news about Ukraine, and we were desperate to help in some way.

"We are fortunate enough to have two spare rooms in our home in Driffield, so I knew we were in a position to take a Ukrainian family in.”

Sabrina and Tony O'Brien, from Driffield, have two spare rooms to offer the Ukrainian family (Reach)
Sabrina and Tony O'Brien, from Driffield, have two spare rooms to offer the Ukrainian family (Reach)

Sabrina and Liliia were matched online, after Lillia, her husband and two children escaped to Moldova.

The two women have since regularly chatted online, and had several Facetime calls to get to know each other, and Sabrina has been incredibly moved by Liliia's story.

Sabrina said: "I am very frightened for the family, I have four children myself, and I just could not fathom having to flee my country to protect my family.

"A few weeks ago, Liliia was making Valentine's Day decorations with her pupils at her school in Ukraine, and now everything is being destroyed.

"It is also not safe for the family in Moldova, the neighbours are all very pro-Russia, due to endless propaganda, and food is becoming scarce, they need to be as far away as possible.

"As Liliia speaks English, this is the best place for her to be, and she is spending all of her time teaching her family English too.

"Liliia hasn't slept in five days, and can barely eat."

The family have applied for visas, but Sabrina said the sponsorship scheme, proposed by the government, needs to move along faster.

She said: "The government really need to do more to fast track this scheme, as the situation is getting more dangerous as time goes on.

"Poland and Romania have let in record amounts of refugees, and we can really learn something from them.

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