City of Sanctuary: Hundreds of Bristolians open homes to refugees fleeing Ukraine war

‘As soon as the war started, I was horrified by what was happening’

Bristol has reaffirmed its status as a City of Sanctuary after hundreds of residents opened up their homes to refugees fleeing the ongoing war in Ukraine.

While many have taken part in protests, collected donations and organised fundraising events, 295 Bristolians have gone the extra mile and offered to host Ukrainians in need of safety and shelter.

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Aliaksandr, a Ukrainian national living in Bristol, has started hosting his girlfriend and her daughter through the Homes for Ukraine scheme. They were previously living in a refugee shelter and going through a lot of ‘stress and anxiety’ before they were finally allowed to come to the UK.

So far, 107 visas have been approved under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and 385 Ukrainians have applied for a visa to come to Bristol.

Bristol City Council invited registered hosts, volunteers and recent Ukrainian arrivals to City Hall to find out about the support available and begin building relationships with others in similar circumstances.

‘I wanted to make a more tangible difference’

Bristol resident Zelda, who will be hosting a Ukrainian family of five soon, said: “I used to work in Ukraine, and I have many connections there and so as soon as the war started, I was horrified by what was happening.

“After helping with some donations, helping with raising money I felt like I would love to make a more tangible difference to someone or to a family.

“I connected with a lady I used to work with and invited her to come, hoping that the government would fill in the gaps and allow me to do so.”

Helen and Adam, who have started hosting a Ukrainian mother and her son, said: “It feels, even at this early stage, quite rewarding.

“I also think that it’s really nice within our street community to see just how much readiness and enthusiasm there is. Although you have to be in a position, as we are, to provide the accommodation and host someone.

“There are clearly a large number of people within the community who want to chip in, in whatever way they can and that’s already happening in quite a big way.”

Councillor: ‘We need more people to step forward’

Bristol became a City of Sanctuary in 2010, and while hundreds have stepped up to help Ukrainian refugees so far, Councillor Helen Holland has urged anyone thinking about becoming a host family to find out more.

The cabinet member with responsibility for Adult Social Care and Integrated Care System said: “We are so heartened and grateful to our residents who have opened up their homes to people escaping the war, offering them a place of safety and peace.

Councillor Helen Holland has urged more people to step forward.

“Bristol has had the City of Sanctuary status for over ten years now and the city’s response is a true reflection of this commitment. We need more people to step forward, and I would urge anyone considering it to find out more.

“This is a whole city effort and we have seen organisations and individuals from every part of the city working together to do what we can for those affected by the war.

“As well as providing accommodation, this also includes finding school places, organising English lessons, preparing social care services, as well as carrying out the necessary checks to ensure the wellbeing of both the host and guests.”

Aliaksandr, a Ukrainian national living in Bristol, who has started hosting his girlfriend and her daughter through the Homes for Ukraine scheme said: “My girlfriend from Ukraine and her daughter came last week to Bristol. It took them 17 days to get through this process.

“It could have taken longer, but our MP in parliament helped us out. We all had stress about this, we had anxiety because they’ve been living in a refugee shelter. It was very stressful for them.

Hundreds march on Bristol to condemn attacks on Ukraine.

“I am absolutely so happy that my girlfriend and her daughter are in Bristol, and I am doing as much as I can for them to bring them a normal life, not like what is going on in Ukraine.”

Important note for host families

Future support plans include opening neighbourhood hubs across the city offering English classes and welcome to the UK sessions to new arrivals.

As well as arriving in Bristol through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, people can also enter the UK on a family visa.

As this a Government led scheme, Bristol City Council isn’t notified when people arrive through either scheme and are reliant on host families notifying local authorities.

If you are a host and your guests have arrived through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, or you have arrived on a family visa, contact Bristol City Council on [email protected] for help and support.