Hosting a Ukrainian family

On 24 February, Russia invaded Ukraine. Since that time, more than 9.6 million Ukrainians have fled their country and a third of the population displaced.

In response, the government opened up the Homes for Ukraine scheme for visa applications from individuals or households fleeing from Ukraine who have named people in the UK willing to sponsor them.

What is it like hosting a family from Ukraine? The Revd Nadene Snyman, who with husband Kevin, United Reformed Church (URC) Programme Officer (Global Justice & Partnerships), opened their home to a Ukrainian family, explains:

I’m the minister at Christ Church URC, Petts Wood, and Camberwell Green URC, and we loved the fact that Southern Synod gave the green light to hosting Ukrainian refugee families.

Kevin and I spent hours discussing whether to offer space in our manse to a Ukrainian family. There felt like so many unknowns and uncertainties. We both work in people-focussed professions, or “calls” to be more precise, and our home is an oasis and sanctuary for both of us.

The manse is a place of quiet, peace, and gentleness – an environment in which we are able to recharge for ministry. The thought of giving that up to offer strangers a space in our oasis made us a bit anxious. I am a glass ¾ full person. I plan for the worst while expecting the best. My mind went into overdrive with the myriad of things that could go wrong. We both looked at all sorts of possibilities and how we might creatively tackle any potential blockages to a happy home.

So, what made us change our minds?

Well, three things: lots of prayer, and asking ourselves: “What would Jesus want us to do in this situation?” Third, I have a member of my congregation who came to the UK with the Kinder Transport as a child refugee from war-torn Germany. Maria’s story is incredibly inspiring. She speaks about being hosted by a Congregational minister and the difference that made in her life.

With all of these pressing us forward, we decided to offer our home, and we sensed God bringing peace and gentle reassurance that all would be OK.

Once our decision was made, we soon heard back from a member of our local churches together who was in Warsaw at the time meeting with refugee families. He put us in contact with a mum and 17-year-old daughter who wanted to come to the UK. My heart leapt. We had two rooms and our preference leaned towards hosting older children, not younger. I was not quite ready for the manse noise levels to skyrocket! I know my limits.

We contacted Olga and Christina, and the form-filling marathon began. As the weeks went by, we found WhatsApp a friendly and convenient space for asking questions, sending photos, and sharing documents. One thing that has skyrocketed, I should say, is our loathing for the insane levels of bureaucracy required for people to cross borders.

Eventually visas were granted, and dates were set. The house took some arranging as the daughter, Christina, was writing her final exams of first year university. We created a study area. Both would have their own rooms and share a separate bathroom.

Being at the airport in that context was so strange. Our family was on a flight filled with refugees that were being picked up by host families holding placards and sharing hugs and welcome smiles. When our family walked through, I recognised them immediately and we all hugged like long lost friends. Both mum and daughter looked tired from months of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty among hundreds of thousands of refugees in Poland.

Off to the manse we went.

There was something so special about those first few days of listening to their stories, and discovering what foods reminded them of home.

Christina sat her exams everyday online for three weeks along with attending online lectures followed by long hours of study. The house was so quiet as we all kept vigil while Christina focused on finishing her first year at the medical school of the International University of Kyiv. Olga has already set up a cleaning business and will soon not require Universal Credit. Talk about hard workers! Ukrainians are a wonderful, hard-working, and innovative people.

This has been such a bonding time with our little family. They have truly blessed us. We have celebrated our one-month anniversary. We all cook together most evenings which inevitably is filled with much laughter and sharing.

We discovered that Ukrainian and Afrikaans share some words in common and Kevin and I have discovered that we love Ukrainian food! We find joy in the ordinary things of life, like going to the beach, watching Brooklyn 99, and having meals out. Life with our new family feels normal and precious.

Even if our family went back to Ukraine tomorrow, we are forever forged and knitted together in love. We will always be a part of their lives and them ours. Christina’s future will be bright, and we are honoured to be a part of it. We talk today of blended families; well, we feel like a culturally diverse, extended family that is blessed to be sharing this journey together.