Ukrainian families give back to their hosts

Ukrainian families living in the Devizes area cooked a traditional Ukrainian meal for their host families at St James Centre in the town, in June.

The delicious food of borscht (a deep red coloured beetroot soup) and sweet and savoury vareniki (stuffed steamed dumplings), was complimented by the great conversation; both in the kitchen, where Ukrainian’s shared their stories of home, the war and their escape from it to Wiltshire, and around the table, where hosts shared their experiences of welcoming Ukrainians into their homes and lives. 

The evening, organised by LoveUkraine, ended with local hosts thanking their Ukrainian guests for the food, and a heartfelt and emotional thank you from Maryna, on behalf of her fellow Ukrainians, thanking hosts for, ‘being so welcoming, sharing their homes and lives, and showing so much generosity’. She ended by saying, ‘We all feel so loved by you all, and in return, the food we have cooked is a small sign of our love to you. It is amazing what you have done to help. Our hearts will never let us forgot how kind you have been to us.’ 

LoveUkraine, a bringing together of the Devizes community, is a collaboration between Churches Together in Devizes, the Town Council, Wiltshire County Council, and Devizes Rotary, spearheaded by St James Church. 

The work that LoveUkraine does to support Ukrainian guests (of which there are currently 67 and counting), and their local hosts, has evolved over the months since its launch in March, and now includes: 

- providing financial support to help cover food costs for a Refugee Centre in Lesko, Poland, which is near the Ukrainian border and with which Devizes has had a historic link. 

- matching Ukrainian guests with local hosts 

- funding the accommodation and travel of Ukrainians making their way across Europe to Devizes- 

- two active WhatsApp groups; one for Ukrainian guests, to chat, share and support one another, and a similar one for their hosts. 

- the creation of a comprehensive and Devizes specific flow diagram for guests and hosts to help them navigate all that needs to be done 

- offering support, advice and signposting to guests and their hosts 

- sourcing bikes, beds, cots, high-chairs, clothing, school uniform, and furniture for guests and hosts 

- find jobs for Ukrainian guests 

- providing support to Ukrainian students starting in local schools, primarily through St James Chaplaincy at Devizes School 

- giving out £50 and free SIM cards to each Ukrainian adult on arrival, as many are having to wait a long time before any other/gov funding is available (PHOTO – local host picking up donated car seat and SIM cards for her Ukrainian guests) 

- Ukrainians meeting fortnightly for a 'meet and eat' at St James Centre; to welcome new arrivals, support one another, and share information, resources and stories. 

- providing free English language lessons to Ukrainians (in collaboration with Wiltshire Council). 

- provides safeguarding training to all involved in the organisation, as well as hosts (in collaboration with Wiltshire Community Foundation) 

- meeting new arrivals each Thursday morning, which is market day in Devizes, to show them around the town, including the location of schools, surgeries, etc. 

LoveUkraine, with St James Centre as its centre, is now recognised by Wiltshire Councils as a Refugee Support Hub for the support of guests and hosts in the Devizes area. 

Angela Kendall, administrator at St James Centre, says 

"Each week we are meeting and welcoming new Ukrainians and their hosts at St James Centre, and each time we see first-hand both the ongoing need to provide homes and sanctuary to those fleeing the war in Ukraine, and the generosity and hospitality of so many in Devizes."

Last week Keith Brindle, priest at St James Church, spoke to a young mum, who had just moved to Devizes with her two children: 

"The war has brought us closer to our neighbours and to God. We helped each other each day of the invasion, with food and water, and somewhere to stay, and we had to trust God like never before. And now we thank God for our homes here in England." 

Keith said, 

"We are often here at times of significant transition in the lives of those in our parish, pointing to the hope and generous hospitality found in God’s character and love. 

"What Ukrainian families fleeing to England have had to face is significant transition, followed by significant transition, followed by significant transition, and LoveUkraine has enabled us to be here for them, pointing to the same hope and generous hospitality of God’s character and love." 

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