“ANGELS” was how a Ukrainian pastor described a group of Farnham residents working around the clock to pair local households with families fleeing the war in Ukraine.
The newly-named Farnham Homes for Ukraine group, founded by Rowledge woman Kate Larmer, now has offers from an incredible 100 sponsor families across the town area – with 53 Ukrainian families totalling 136 people and 94 children on their way to the UK pending visas.
The youngest refugee currently making their way across Europe to Farnham is aged just six months old.
A further 40 people have offered to support the refugees once they arrive in the area, with ten Ukrainian speakers, Rowledge Residents Association and Farnham Town Council also assisting the group. These numbers are growing daily.
And toy maker Mattel, an employee of whom heard about the group’s efforts, has offered to donate almost 300 brand-new toys for children arriving in Farnham having left everything behind.
Farnham Homes for Ukraine held its first public meeting at Frensham Heights School on Tuesday, with many of the group’s sponsors and supporters present – and even more watching via Zoom. It was during this meeting that a Ukrainian pastor gave an emotional speech, comparing the group to angels.
A new website was also launched this week – https://www.fhfu.org – making it even easier for Ukrainian families, UK sponsors and supporters to register with the group.
Families are being identified all the time by the group’s Ukrainian contact Tatyana Moskalenko, with many coming from the heavily-bombed city of Kharkiv in the east of the country.
And once identified, Farnham Homes for Ukraine’s team goes to work matching them with a UK sponsor family. They are then put in touch with each other via WhatsApp.
This has resulted in some extraordinary conversations as families compare pictures of their surroundings, and track their journeys to safety.
Some families have already fled the Ukraine. But others are still too afraid to leave their homes and basements until the UK government approves their visa applications. Families are also being asked to translate their birth certificates into English to support their applications, and some families are having to travel to Warsaw to obtain passports.
This has led to criticism that the UK is asking families stuck in the middle of a war zone to jump through bureaucratic hoops before travelling to the UK, unlike many other European nations.
Kate said these delays are “potentially costing lives”.
Another consequence of the delays has left Kate’s team scrambling to find temporary accommodation in Poland, and across Europe, for families waiting to travel to Britain.
St Joan’s Church in Farnham – which has strong Polish ties – and latterly the Rotary Club of Farnham is helping the group find accommodation in Europe.
And the issue is expected to worsen after rumours surfaced on Tuesday that Russian soldiers were rounding up civilians in a village to the east of Kharkiv – prompting many of the group’s families to flee the city earlier than planned.