There are currently 378 Ukrainian guests and one Jack Russell being hosted by East Hampshire families.
The host families’ generosity has ensured a safe sanctuary for families from many different areas of Ukraine fleeing bombing, drone and missile strikes on critical civilian infrastructure, hospitals, apartment buildings and houses.
One of those displaced from Kyiv to Alton is Yuliia, 29, and her son Kyryl, ten.
Much of their time since the invasion in February last year had been spent in the basement of their apartment block with Yuliia’s husband and parents, sheltering from the constant threat of missile attacks.
In the early days of constant air-raid alerts, adults were prevented from going to their place of work and children were unable to go to school. Understandably, the fallout on family finances was considerable.
Kyiv was coming under regular missile attack so Yuliia’s husband insisted that she and Kyryl should seek safety outside the country. So the pair reluctantly left Kyiv for Poland.
Her husband, like all Ukrainian men under 60 years of age, was unable to leave and remained in Kyiv to help the war effort.
They stayed in Poland for a month while their visa application to travel to the UK was processed.
Yuliia recalls: “We waited such a long time for a visa – it was a complicated process.”
Fortunately, their designated host family in Alton came to the rescue and helped sort things out. They arrived in April with visas valid for a three-year stay.
Yuliia soon found some work locally and Kyryl was offered a place at a school in Alton where he quickly made some new friends.
Notwithstanding the kindness shown by Yuliia’s host family, her natural inclination is to return home to Kyiv just as soon as it becomes safe.
She says: “This is the first time I’ve been to another country. It’s obviously a different culture and it’s a little strange for me!”
Now Christmas is out of the way, Yuliia and Kyryl plan to return very briefly to Kyiv to see family – it’s an arduous journey involving a flight to Warsaw and a 48-hour bus journey to Kyiv.
She says: “I should go to see my husband and my parents because I fear that in the new year there will be an increase in Russian missile and drone attacks on Kyiv and it might be impossible to travel safely for a while.
“A power substation is very near our apartment – I worry about my parents.”
Yuliia is taking home a very special and important Christmas present. Amid the ever-present spectre of power outages, she has bought a small generator in the UK so the family will have a modicum of power to run the oven and a small fridge.
Of her life in Alton, she says: “It’s been a big a change, especially for my son – he gets rather stressed with all the upheaval.
“After we left Kyiv he was initially in a school in Poland and now here in Alton. He misses his friends in Kyiv and especially the family dog Busya and our two small parrots, Kesha and Masha.
“However, he speaks good English so he’s been able to make some new friends.”
Along with all the other Ukrainians who have made Alton their temporary refuge, Yuliia is at great pains to say how much she and the rest of Ukraine appreciates just how much the UK continues to do for them.
She understands the challenges for host families in taking strangers into their homes: “I’m not sure I could do it if the situation was the other way around,” she says.
“People in Ukraine have become very close under this turbulence in their lives and are regularly helping each other out – the spirit in Ukraine is strong.
“Queuing is disciplined and food, especially bread, is shared among people standing in line.”
Followers of news from Ukraine will know of the alleged Russian atrocities in Bucha, not far from Kyiv. Many houses, schools and hospitals were destroyed by artillery fire there, among them Yuliia’s grandmother’s house.
“Ukranians just want peace,” says Yuliia. “We don’t want Russia to have our land and we are prepared to fight on to get all of it back.”
Donate to the JustGiving webpage at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/energiseukraine