23 February 2023, The Tablet

Ukrainians appeal for renewed support for refugees

“By opening your homes and your hearts, you are effectively helping to save the Ukrainian nation.”

Ukrainians appeal for renewed support for refugees

Protests outside Downing Street following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February last year.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales/Mazur

The director of the Ukrainian Welcome Centre in London has appealed for renewed support for refugees from the war in Ukraine, as they mark the first anniversary of the Russian invasion on 24 February.

Speaking at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family on Thursday, Andriy Marchenko said that the number of sponsors for the “Homes for Ukraine” scheme – where families take refugees into their homes for a minimum of six months – had “noticeably dwindled”.

He said that many Ukrainians were struggling to find housing in the UK, with private landlords often reluctant to rent to them.

Mr Marchenko said that the end of many six-month placements had coincided with the cost-of-living crisis, leaving many households without the means to continue as hosts.

It would require government support, he said, and a renewed impetus from private citizens to sustain support for refugees.

“Please, please keep supporting Ukrainians,” he said.

Mr Marchenko added that Russia was fighting an avowedly “genocidal” war to destroy Ukrainian nationhood.

“By opening your homes and your hearts,” he said, “you are effectively helping to save the Ukrainian nation.”

He continued: “It is a matter of making a conscious decision to support the people who have been victims of these atrocities.”

Mr Marchenko spoke alongside Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Eparchy of the Holy Family in Exile, and Petro Rewko, the chairman of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain.

Bishop Nowakowski, who returned this week from a visit to Ukraine, said that he had been struck by how difficult it was for families and young people there to make any plan for the future.

He said that pupil numbers in schools were limited by their bomb shelter capacity, and that regular medication and hospital treatment was increasingly difficult to access.

In individual parishes, he said, “you cannot help but cry” at the “number of people being buried every day”.

“I’m not sure that I have any tears left.”

Commenting on “Forgiveness Sunday” on 26 February, the beginning of Lent according to the Julian calendar of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Bishop Nowakowski acknowledged that “it is hard to forgive when you know that the other side doesn’t feel any remorse or guilt”.

However, he added, “people of faith are also people of hope”.

Mr Rewko expressed his gratitude for Western support for Ukraine, saying that there would “never be enough words to thank the UK”.

Reflecting on the events of last February, he said that the association had set up an aid fund with a target of £50,000, which eventually passed £3.5 million.

“We will win this war,” he said. “There is no doubt about that.”

The Ukrainian Welcome Centre is a joint initiative of the association with the Ukrainian Catholic Church, on the cathedral premises in Mayfair.

It was established in the months after the Russian invasion, and formally opened by the King and Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, at the end of last year.

Mr Marchenko said that its role was to help refugees to navigate UK life and access the help on offer, “giving them an idea of which doors to knock on and what to say when the door opens”.

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