CNN spoke with half a dozen new refugees from Ukraine who have become homeless in the UK after their relationship with their British hosts deteriorated, leaving them confused and isolated – and faced with an astonishing amount of red ice.
The scale of the problem remains unclear. The UK government says 77,000 Ukrainians have come to the UK since the war started, through two different programmes: the Ukrainian Family Program, where Ukrainians can be hosted by relatives in UK; and the Homes for Ukraine program, where Ukrainians find a local “sponsor” through friends, charity or even on social media, and apply for a visa together. According to the UK government, “the vast majority … are settling down.”
However, new preliminary data collected by the UK government shows that 660 Ukrainian households sought homeless help from local authorities between February 24 and May 24. June 3. And that data doesn’t tell the whole story. Social media groups for the Ukrainian diaspora in London are flooded with messages from people who don’t care about their UK hosts.
Nearly a quarter of local governments have yet to provide any data, and CNN spoke to several refugees who became homeless in those areas. Two striking accounts of unrelated women reveal significant flaws in schemes designed to help them.
Note ‘good luck’
Natalia Arnautova, 28, from Odessa to Reading, about 50 miles from London, alone in April. She was met at the airport by a couple in their fifties, whom she contacted through a matching website and who were sponsoring her visa under the Houses for Ukraine program. After a month of living together, the couple decided that they could no longer arrange it and asked her for permission to return. She said she was offered only one option by the local government: A boarding house for the homeless.
She told CNN in a phone interview: “The people who developed this show didn’t think through what would happen in those cases when people didn’t move on for some reason. And there are many reasons why things go wrong.”
Arnautova accepts personality differences with her host, but says she doesn’t expect to have to move out. An interpreter working for the local council called her with the news, Arnautova recalled.
“She said, ‘You have nowhere to live, they’re going to kick you out tonight,'” she recalls. “I stood stunned, crying.” Arnautova said she tried to convince the council to give her a room in the hotel, but they refused. She turned down the dormitory option because she didn’t feel safe.
She happened to be at a meeting for Ukrainians in Reading, and was approached by one of the organizers, who agreed to let her stay for a few nights.
“I went back to an empty house and started packing,” she said. “They left me a note in my room, wishing me luck. No one saw me off or asked me where I was going.”
Arnautova said the council made little effort after that: “Their day ended at 5pm on Friday. Two weeks later, the council called to ask me where I was.” Wokingham Borough Council told CNN it does not comment on specific cases.
Arnautova’s host, who asked only to be named Adrian, told CNN there were some “small issues in the property itself” that led to the break in the relationship and he didn’t know she was. was provided with a homeless shelter. He thinks she will be rematched with another presenter, he said.
“We’ve sorted out all the paperwork, the doctor, the national insurance, the residence permit interview… It’s been a lot of work, so I’m personally disappointed it didn’t work out,” he said. he say. “I remember seeing scenes on television and thinking we have to do something. We have a big house, an available room, so why not?”
Adrian added that he thinks Arnautova’s “heart isn’t in it” has to do with living in Reading, and that she wants to be in London.
British Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove at the time said the plan “provides a lifeline to those who have been forced to flee.”
According to Sara Nathan, co-founder of the charity Refugees at Home, the idea of the organization plan is, in its face of it, a good one, having been bringing refugees together with the organization for the past seven years. .
“I think our first reaction was, thank god, we appreciate that hosting people is a step forward,” she told CNN. “It’s a good way to combine newcomers, newcomers with trauma.”
One major problem, however, is re-adjusting when positions fail, says Nathan.
The UK government says assemblies now have access to the hybrid system, which should only be used when the hosting relationship is deemed unsafe or unreliable.
But several charities told CNN the facility was late, still inconsistent and difficult to access. Government data shows that more than half of Ukrainian households that have sought help with the homeless are now in temporary accommodation.
‘A trivial thing’
When CNN first contacted Natalia Lymar, just days after she was asked to leave by her British host, she couldn’t finish a sentence without holding back tears. Hailing from Bucha, this 49-year-old has survived days of bombardment and a terrifying encounter with a group of armed Russian soldiers in her home. This, she said, is worse.
“It bothers me so much that I feel like I’m going through a lot more stress right now, when I understand I have to pack my bags, than when I’m in my basement in Bucha.” , she told us two weeks later. “I feel like a stray kitten being adopted.”
Lymar says she still doesn’t fully understand what happened to her first showrunners.
“There’s one little thing, and I don’t even know what they’re unhappy about, and then another, and even when they say something, it’s with a smile that I think everything is fine. “, she explained.
“People don’t necessarily get along,” Nathan said. “It doesn’t mean they’ve done anything bad and it doesn’t mean you’re the bad guy. You just can’t move on for six months, which is a long time.”
CNN was unable to reach Lymar’s sponsors for comment on this story, but a friend of hers, who initially helped her match them, confirmed she was asked to leave. Lymar and her friend tried to get help from the council, but failed to apply for homelessness because they couldn’t manage the paperwork.
Nathan says the government should plan ahead for this type of scenario. “In any exercise of this scale, there will be setbacks. There will be positions that don’t work. And there isn’t a consistent pattern of matching that we want to see.”
Charities warn that too much responsibility lies with local governments. While keeping busy with security checks for new arrivals, local councils are also having to help as positions fail without much guidance from the central government.
Denise Scott-McDonald, a councilor in Greenwich, south-east London, said: “We really want the government to put more money into this. “If we don’t, there’s going to be a terrible situation where so many people from a war zone are completely traumatized, thrown into a system where they don’t know what’s going on.”
Councils are gearing up for a logistical ‘edge of the cliff’ that is moving fast even for Ukrainians who are now content with their UK hosts.
The organizers of the House for Ukraine program were only asked to commit for six months. What’s worrisome is what happens around September, when the first arrivals start hitting that deadline.
“To be [going to] Scott-McDonald said. Greenwich is currently dealing with 19 cases where positions were broken.
Britain’s refugee minister, Richard Harrington, said he hoped that they would find work and eventually be able to rent their own accommodation. Home Secretary Priti Patel has also defended the plan, saying the government is paying councils nearly $13,000 per refugee.
Scott-Mcdonald says that after years of council budget cuts and amid a cost of living crisis, that’s not enough. She also wants more communication from the central government to ease the burden of councils doing it alone. “We feel that the government has taken a tough response to the crisis, and this has led to ‘chaos’ for council staff and local residents trying to manage the system,” she said. system.
Both Ukrainian women CNN spoke to said they were trying to find their way without government support.
Lymar is living with a new server, found through a local WhatsApp group. It is a special arrangement. CNN understands that Lymar has not been officially rematched with the new host of the show House for Ukraine.
Arnautova is staying with friends in London. She can ask to be reassigned by the council where her previous presenters live, but says she wants to stay in London, continue her English studies, get a job and eventually rent your own accommodation.
“When I came here, I was completely confident that I would be protected for a minimum of six months, that I would not have to think about where I would live or what I would do,” she said.
“Why did this happen. Why did they leave me on the street?”