Thornbury area welcomes more than 60 Ukrainian refugees
MORE than 60 refugees from the Russian invasion of Ukraine are being welcomed into the Thornbury area, with more to follow after an overwhelming response from families.
They are among almost 200 people escaping the war who are expected to arrive in South Gloucestershire in the coming weeks.
Around 30 adults and a similar number of children are making the journey under the government's Homes for Ukraine scheme.
As the Voice went to press 36 were heading to Thornbury, 13 to Rockhampton and two each in both Alveston and Charfield, with more refugees expected to arrive later as more families are coming forward to offer accommodation.
Churches are opening up their halls as drop-in centres so the new Ukrainian community can get together. Individuals have donated a range of goods, including clothes, bikes and car seats.
However, one family from Thornbury is calling on the Home Office to change the rules after struggling to get a visa for a 14-month-old child to come over with his family.
Catherine and Aidan Healy are preparing to host a grandmother, mother and two children who are currently in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.
The baby was on his mother’s passport, which meant they were required to make the long and gruelling return trip to Poland to obtain his visa.
Aiden took up the issue with Thornbury & Yate MP Luke Hall, who spoke with the Home Office which said it wasn’t able to change the rules.
In the end the family managed to get a passport issued in Ukraine for the child, and a visa application has been made.
Aiden said: “I’m exceedingly frustrated that a country at war can issue a passport for a 14-month-old and we can’t correct the system in that same time.
"I’m still pursuing it because I believe it’s wrong, and that we should be putting it right for other people in a similar circumstance that aren’t as fortunate as this mother to be able to get a passport for her child.
"She’s in Lviv, which is in a very dangerous environment, but is more safe than some of the other places and it’s amazing that she could actually get all of that done in a country, which is in major turmoil and we can’t do something relatively simple when we have none of the constraints that they do.
“I’m not asking all people to come in on passports, but by definition it’s a young child who poses absolutely no threat to this country whatsoever.”
Aiden said he had offered accommodation because it seemed the right thing to do.
He said: "I can’t do anything to fight the Russians but I can help to look after these people who are in turmoil."
A community's response to crisis
THORNBURY resident Jane Mitchell has helped bring hosts and refugees together after offering a room in March to a refugee from Kiev, who has had to travel to Thornbury alone while the male members of her family were required to stay in Ukraine.
Jane said that when the homes for Ukraine scheme opened in March, support schemes were "non existent at the outset".
She said: "Families were required to register as a potential host with the government scheme and literally had to scour the internet to search for their own Ukrainian to connect with and work through the visa process together, using Google translate to for communication difficulties and intermittent video chat facilities."
Jane said that after connecting with a Ukrainian woman looking to come to the UK and waiting for the visa she thought that it would be easier if she had some Ukrainian friends in the town was put in touch with two other host families by Thornbury Baptist Church.
She said: "What started as a simple WhatsApp chat group of three people organically grew incredibly fast to a linked up group with over 50 members who will host refugee families in and around Thornbury.
"Lots of support is being arranged, from an introductory question-and-answer hosts' night, so we could disseminate useful information, to an evening with a clinical psychologist on supporting our guests through trauma."
Daily drop-in sessions for the new arrivals are being planned at the United Reformed Church by the St Mary's Street car park.
Thornbury Baptist Church have been collecting donations of clothes, bedding and toys, Thornbury Men's Shed are reconditioning bicycles, 2nd Thornbury Cubs are offering free places for Ukrainian refugees, along with free uniforms, U3A are offering free activities and support for refugees and Reflections hairdresser's staff have offered a social evening with free hair cuts.
Jane said: "Many local businesses have been in touch with offers of work in local cafes, shops and so on.
"The response of locals from Thornbury and district has been incredible."
The group has a Facebook page, Thornbury and Area Ukrainian Refugee Support Group, where we share information locally, and can also be contacted by email on email@example.com.
A WhatsApp supporters group for people who want to help but are not able to host a refugee has been set up by resident Jo Ebbs.
Jo said: "We have around 50 in the support group. We have people baking cakes, making door welcome wreaths in blue and yellow for refugees arriving, offering babysitting, offers of lifts such as to job interviews or benefits appointments if hosts are at work, interpreting, befriending and conversational English.
"It's a fantastic response from Thornbury."
A message from Ukraine
A mum who is waiting to come to Thornbury with her baby son wrote about her experience to Catherine and Aidan Healy
"Air-raid sirens sound several times a day and almost every night.
"Children are tired and nervous to constantly wake up and go to a safer place.
"Today at 5 o'clock there were sirens of alarm. In the next area a rocket was shot down in the air. "When there is an alarm at night, we move the children to the corridor so that there are two walls and no windows.
"There is an underground car park, but it is difficult to go there at night and it is cold there.”
Picture: Jane Mitchell with Viktoriia Schavinska, the first refugee to arrive in Thornbury in April