If you think you’ve seen some of the people in these pictures before, you’re absolutely right. Krystina, Tetiana, Liubov, Olha, Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Grigoriy and Peach the dog have all featured previously in this paper.
But now they all need help to find new homes.
I’m a retired modern language teacher and co-founder of UELIA (Ukrainian English Lessons In Alton) which gives free tuition in the Alton Maltings Centre to any Ukrainian guest who would like to improve their English.
Most of our students come to us via the Ukraine-Alton Mutual Aid group which is how I met the people in these photos. Most of them still come to us and now they also learn English at Alton College.
You may remember Tony Souter’s harrowing account of Tetiana sheltering in a bunker before escaping to daughter Krystina in Kyiv, only to suffer missile attacks there and finally come to Alton.
They have both lived happily in Alton for ten months. Krystina works hard every day perfecting her English to get a recognised qualification. She is also taking a conversion course in contract law and hopes eventually to work as a paralegal and then a fully-fledged lawyer, as she did in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Tetiana looks after the domestic side of things. Ideally, they would like to stay together in Alton but are happy to be anywhere near a bus stop and would live in separate homes if necessary.
Olga and her family from near Bucha have spent nearly a year living in Lower Froyle next door to their hosts, with whom they get on very well and whose chickens they feed and whose dogs they sometimes look after. Both children are settled and happy in their schools.
Olga, a psychotherapist, runs counselling sessions via Zoom for Ukrainian people at home and abroad with problems like PTSD and separation anxiety resulting from the conflict. She also works part-time at a local pub.
They, too, would like to stay together but appreciate that separate accommodation for her mother Tatyana may be necessary.
Liubov from Dnipro has been in Binsted for nine months and juggles English classes with a job in Blacknest, which she loves. She has a beautiful singing voice and is a member of Alton Rock Choir.
When she sang Chervona Kalyna, a patriotic Ukrainian folk song that has become a symbol for Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion, at a fundraising event last year, there was hardly a dry eye in the house.
She would love to remain in the Binsted area or near her daughter and grandson in Alton, from where she could commute to Bentley station and then walk to Blacknest.
Olha takes English lessons twice a week and works in a café in Alton on four more days. A great cook, she makes and decorates the most mouth-wateringly delicious cakes. The cake we ate at the fundraiser was one of her creations.
She and her two daughters would like to stay in or near Alton. Veronika works in Alton as a hairdresser while Anna is in Year 11 at Amery Hill School and would like to complete her GCSEs there.
Our Ukrainian guests are all making great efforts to integrate and approach real independence. But now all these conscientious, hard-working people are in need of new homes.
They pay tribute to the kindness and generosity of their current hosts, who now for valid reasons need their homes back. And in turn the hosts have nothing but praise for their guests.
Debbie and Peter, hosts to Tetiana and Krystina, say: “They have been very undemanding and very reluctant to encroach on our space. It has been easy to maintain a good relationship with them.”
Liubov’s hosts, Caroline and David, call her “the perfect house guest, clean and tidy, quiet and respectful of our space and our privacy”.
“We will definitely remain friends,” they add.
I am constantly amazed by the courage and resilience of these women. They miss their homes and their menfolk, of course, and occasionally we shed a tear together but their sheer determination to make a go of it here is impressive.
Second hosts will have none of the stress and hassle experienced by the first hosts. Paperwork is completed, formalities gone through, the guests know us and our ways, don’t need looking after and are well on their way to living independently among us.
Readers responded brilliantly to the Energise Ukraine appeal. You have opened your hearts to the Ukrainian people. Now I am asking you to open your doors.
If you have one or more spare rooms, please consider becoming a host to our friends from Ukraine already living here. It will enrich your lives.
If you are able to offer accommodation to a Ukrainian living in Alton, or would like to know more, contact Ukraine-Alton Mutual Aid on 07740 665074 or 07802 625439, or enquire via WhatsApp and Facebook.