Homes for Ukraine shows Britain at its best as Ukrainian refugees embrace Eurovision in Liverpool
As the Eurovision Song Contest comes to its colourful crescendo in Liverpool this weekend, among the audience will be Ukrainian refugees who’ve found sanctuary and safety in the United Kingdom thanks to the generosity of their Scouse host families.
For these refugees, the final will be a bittersweet moment. Yuliia, who was forced to leave her homeland last year, told us that seeing Ukrainian flags and symbols line the city is the closest she’s felt to home since the start of the war. Luda, 25, who attended last night’s semi-final told us how, along with the music, the competition was important to her because it highlighted how much the UK had done for Ukraine. "I am so happy to be here," she told us "The people of Liverpool have been so welcoming, and I feel like I am finally safe."
But at the same time, the very fact that the UK is hosting the competition on Ukraine’s behalf is a stark reminder of the toll that Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion has taken on their country and the friends and relatives they have had to leave behind. For peace of mind, Yuliia has come to an arrangement with her mother, who stayed in Ukraine, to text her every morning just to let her know she is OK. Luda on the other hand worries often about her father, an oil refinery worker, who despite working close to the frontline must stay and work to keep fuel flowing across Ukraine.
The generosity of their host families and the wider Liverpool community have been an incredible source of solace and support
Nothing can make up for the heartbreak and anger Ukrainians feel about what is happening in their country. But for Yuliia, Luda and Alina – the three Ukrainians whose stories we heard as part of a More in Common project to highlight the Homes for Ukraine scheme – the generosity, kindness and friendship of their host families and the wider Liverpool community have been an incredible source of solace and support.
None of these women knew what to expect when they met their host families and for Yuliia and Luda, who left Ukraine speaking little English, their arrival in the UK was filled with anxiety. A year later, these women describe their hosts as “My English family” and “the sweetest person in the world”. Alina goes so far as to call the Homes for Ukraine scheme “probably the best scheme that’s been created”, precisely because living with families helped them to adjust to life in a new country.
Their positive experiences have been shared by host families across the UK. When More in Common surveyed over a thousand hosts for the first anniversary of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, only three per cent said that they regretted taking part and the overwhelming majority (81 per cent) said they had a positive experience with the scheme. Both hosts and guests told us how much they have enjoyed introducing one another to different parts of Ukranian and British culture – most importantly the food – and while Luda isn’t a fan of Shepherd’s Pie, Fish and Chips were a definite hit.
What makes the scheme so unique is that the hosts, who threw open their homes to families in need, come from right across the political spectrum, from all walks of life and almost none of them have had experience of working with refugees before.
We also know there are many more people who have thought about opening up their home, but haven’t yet come forward as sponsors. With the war sadly unlikely to end soon, our hope is that by sharing the stories and experiences we can encourage the next wave of hosts to come forward.
New families are needed to step up to the plate. Situations change, children return from university, renovations and house moves go ahead and we need to ensure that the UK’s door remains open to others in need of sanctuary.
At a time when Britain has often felt like there hasn’t been much to celebrate during the last few years, the Homes for Ukraine scheme has shown our country at its best. Whether watching live in Liverpool, at a party with friends or at home on the sofa, the final of the Eurovision song contest will not just be an opportunity for us to enjoy the music, staging and campery, but also to recognise that moment when Britain rose up in Ukraine’s hour of need and that we need to redouble our resolve in the months ahead.
Luke Tryl, UK director of More in Common
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