How a Stokes Croft charity is helping Ukrainians on the ‘complicated and tortuous’ process of getting to the UK
The small church and charity, LoveBristol, have sent a team out to the Ukrainian border to aid in the passageway of refugees to the UK. We chat with trustee Greg Thompson to find out more about their mission and how we can help
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LoveBristol, a small church and charity based in Stokes Croft, is aiding Ukrainians in their passageway to the UK. The not-for-profit organisation is supported by a combination of social enterprise, gifts and grant-aided support, and they are usually focused on loving, caring and supporting communities across Bristol.
Committed to creating a resource that will bring about positive change, the charity is now also focused on improving the lives of those fleeing Ukraine and supporting them as best as they can.
Having been on the ground on the border of Ukraine at the Humanitarian Centre in Przemysl for the last four weeks, we chat to trustee of LoveBristol Greg Thompson about the work they are doing out there, how the Bristol public can help and what the reality of the situation is.
Mr Thompson tells us how the team at LoveBristol came to be working on the border in Ukraine. “We ended up here after having personal contact with Ukrainians and it made us realise that we could do a bit more, so we got a team together of like-minded people and started gathering some aid,” he explains.
“Four vehicles went down at the beginning of March, and delivered the aid to churches in Ukraine.
“Once there, we found out that in the main humanitarian services here, there was no representation for the UK to facilitate anyone travelling or wanting to travel to the UK and resettle there.”
The team at LoveBristol decided they needed to do something to change this, so they took a table and a flag and set up a base in Ukraine offering advice. The team look up all the legislation for travel and visas in order to make the process easier for Ukrainians.
“We happened to have a developer with us who coded and developed the database system for matching people with the people in the UK, and then hand-holding them through the whole visa process from passport office to biometrics,” Mr Thompson tells us.
“Now, we are looking at accommodating them and we’re just starting to see them travel to the UK.”
But what are the biggest problems that aid teams such as LoveBristol face in Ukraine? Mr Thompson tells us how the visa process is an utter nightmare. “It’s too complicated and tortuous for Ukrainians to follow through on their own - it’s very difficult,” he says.
“The emails coming back through from the Home Office don’t even have names on and a lot of Ukrainians don’t have biometric passports and to get them, they have to travel really far to collect their visa. There are a lot of steps and a lot of complications.”
Once they get to the UK, Mr Thompson says how much people want to help, but there’s a big gap in support before Ukrainians get to this point.
So, what needs to happen and what support from the Bristol public could aid LoveBristol’s efforts to help outside of the government’s bigger problems? “What needs to happen is that a few of the obstacles involved in the process need to be removed,” says Mr Thompson.
“In terms of Bristol we are looking for chaperones to travel to and from the UK. We’ll fly the chaperone out and then they will fly back the next day once they’ve met the Ukrainian resettler. They’ll meet the host at the other side and find their way back to Bristol.
“We’ve also got an accommodation fund and web link where we are raising money for accommodation whilst we are looking after them.
“People could also write to their MP to speed up the process - that would be really helpful. It’s been 25 days and the first applicant hasn’t received anything back yet.”
I wonder how long Mr Thompson thinks the team will be out in Ukraine for. “It’s hard to say,” he says.
“With the way that the war has refocused has meant that there are some areas of people who have been released and are able to leave the country means we are seeing a bit of an increase of people travelling through here at the moment.
“We’ve started a base in Warsaw as people end up there and don’t have a plan. We’re trying to help with outreach there.”
As Mr Thompson talks through the hopes of the war coming to an end, he tells us that this means there will be other ways that LoveBristol will be looking to support.
“We are really hoping and praying that this war comes to an end, but then there will be a lot of people who want to go back so then it’s really looking at how we can help Ukraine to be rebuilt,” he says. “We’ve got some ideas around that.”
Mr Thompson tells us how one thing that Bristolians could be really helpful is making a way for Ukrainians to find their independence. “The hosts are amazing but, at some point, families are going to want their own home and space,” he says. “Making it an easy pathway for them to get into rented accommodation can be very strict and financially taxing.”
What LoveBristol feels they are doing well is matching refugees with homes, and taking a lot of time finding out what really works for hosts and Ukrainians to minimise the amount of relationships that will break down.
“These are people that have been through awful situations, so offering support, love and kindness and walking alongside them is a really valuable thing to be able to do,” says Mr Thompson.
“One positive of the times is that you make good relationships with the people as you get to know them and hear their stories.”
Mr Thompson goes on to say how supportive Bristol has been of the mission as a city. “We’ve got a lot of people from Bristol on the team and I think Bristolians are proud of their city and what we’ve got to offer,” he says.
“The response is good in Bristol and Ukrainians will be really cared for. I think there will be quite a lot for them in Bristol. There’s a Ukrainian pastor who wants to start a church in the city.”