More than 600 host families across East Sussex have welcomed those fleeing the war in Ukraine into their homes. 1,000 Ukrainian guests have settled in the county since the launch of the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme in March.
Since the start of the war, many Ukrainians have fled with few possessions, leaving behind family and friends not knowing when they will be able to return.
Here two families, and their hosts, tell their stories:
Crossing the border
Anastasiia and her family crossed the border into Poland on February 28. She said: “We were on the bus for 24 hours, sitting between the seats because the bus was so full. We just had backpacks – they are easier to carry than a suitcase.”
After a long journey to the UK, the family are now staying with television presenter Natasha Kaplinsky, who lives near Fletching.
‘I come from a family of refugees’
Natasha had very personal reasons for wanting to help, and said there was no doubt in her mind about opening her home.
Natasha said: “I come from a family of refugees. My father was a political refugee from South Africa and our family fled Europe in the Second World War, so taking in a family was just something I had to do.
“I am very privileged to have the space and there was no question in my mind that I needed to do whatever I could to help.”
Natasha helped to establish a community group which has found homes locally for a large number of Ukrainians, and was contacted by Anastasiia following a message Natasha posted on social media.
Safe in Sussex
Although the family are relieved to be safe in Sussex, they miss their life in Ukraine.
Natasha said: “They are the most amazing family and we love having them but they want to be at home. They have left everything, everything they have worked for has just gone.”
Anastasiia and her husband Yarrick ran a very successful Aikido school in Ukraine and feel guilty about leaving. Their students write and ask them when they are coming back.
Anastasiia continued: “It is bittersweet for us. Natasha’s family have been so kind and lovely to us. We are really lucky to be here and are very grateful.
“But every morning I wake up and think ‘is it a dream?’. Then I realise it’s not a dream and this is where we have to live now. It’s really hard to be in another country especially when you have not planned to leave.”
Sound of explosions
Anna and Timur realised they had to leave their home after waking to the sound of explosions on February 24. They fled to central Ukraine but decided to leave a month later following an explosion at a nearby oil refinery.
Anna explained: “It is impossible to live a normal life when you have air raid alerts several times a day and have to stay in a bomb shelter all the time.”
A place of safety
Sarah Whittaker, who owns an equine vet practice with her husband Reuben, has welcomed the family from Kharkov to their home in Northiam. Sarah’s grandmother fled Germany as a refugee and Sarah wanted to do something in recognition of the help she received in England.
Sarah says: “I would probably not be alive today if someone had not offered my grandmother a place of safety. Reuben and I were keen to help if we could. If we were in the same situation we would hope someone would do it for us.”
Anna and Timur had a happy, successful life before the invasion, running a chain of heating equipment shops.
Anna said: “A couple years ago we built a new house and were excited about the upcoming summer and planting our garden.”
After registering for the Homes for Ukraine scheme, Sarah found Anna through social media and the family arrived in the UK after driving 2000 miles across Europe.
Anna said: “At first it was very strange not to hear air raid alerts, to see normal life and not be afraid when going to sleep. Sarah and Reuben have been so kind and we are happy that we can live here in peace.”
‘We hope to return one day’
Although Anna and Timur want to return to Ukraine one day, they are determined to make a life for themselves in East Sussex. They have set up a tack cleaning business and are planning to start a catering business selling Ukrainian food.
Anna continued: “We really hope that we can go back home one day, but unfortunately our country is being destroyed because of the war and nobody knows when it will end.”
Sarah added: “We are really humbled by how positive and hard working Anna and Timur are, after all they have been through. We are so pleased that we can help in our small way.”
How you can help
Visit the East Sussex County Council website for more information on how East Sussex is supporting Ukrainians fleeing the conflict and what you can do to help.