Providing a home for Ukraine refugees

Andrew Irvine on how he ended up offering his spare bedroom in New Southgate to a family fleeing war

From left are Ukrainian grandmother Galyna, refugee host Andrew Irvine, Galyna’s daughter Anya with her baby daughter Layla, and Anya’s husband Mugga
From left are Ukrainian grandmother Galyna, refugee host Andrew Irvine, Galyna’s daughter Anya with her baby daughter Layla, and Anya’s husband Mugga

I have followed the stories in Ukraine and, like many watching from the UK, I briefly fantasised about getting a gun and travelling to fight with them.

Then I got real and realised that what I could do best to help would be to use the spare room in my house for housing refugees. I registered to accommodate two people and spread the word among my friends to find out if anyone knew any Ukrainians that were fleeing the conflict.

The next evening, I received an emergency text asking me to take a family of four that were arriving at Luton the next morning, with nowhere to go. I was told that If I didn’t take them, they would have to be split up.

Just twelve hours later, mother Galyna, daughter Anya, and her Azeri husband Mugga with their 20-month-old child Layla were helping me move furniture around to fit them all in for a four-week stay.

The local vicar provided a cot, a friend provided a bed, and all was well! The next day, I told the family they were welcome to stay for at least six months, if they wished. The support from neighbours has been great; gifting weeks of food on the doorstep, a big fridge-freezer to put it all in, baby car seats, a stroller, a rocking horse and more clothes and toys for Layla than she has ever owned.

Enough money has come in to cover the family’s Oyster cards for a while and even some local shops have given things free. The government has issued the family with work permits and, despite being able to apply for benefits, they are all keen to work. Within a week, they had their first job!

I carefully asked no questions about their experience of the war back home, thinking that I didn’t need to know, but after ten days Galyna suddenly opened up and told me that a missile hit their apartment and blew out all the windows – they packed three bags and left Lviv immediately.

As the war might last for years, Galyna accepts that they might not be going back. I just want them to feel safe and secure and I’m going to do everything I can to set them up here in London so they can have choices and freedom to live their lives.

I have been writing a little channel on Facebook for two years called HomefoodUK, which was all about me living by myself and trying to get by with a minimum of shopping. Now instead you can read all about my new life with my new family, with Ukrainian cooking and all the complications of suddenly living in a family of five with a screaming child. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done!