First Winter of War in Ukraine

In what is described as the worst humanitarian crisis in recent European history, over 7.8 million Ukrainians are recorded to have fled the country to other parts of Europe. Pope Francis has called on everyone to keep the people of Ukraine in our hearts this Christmas and ‘offer concrete signs of help for them’.

This winter is the first since the start of the war in February and will be the toughest for those still in Ukraine. Consistent Russian attacks on energy infrastructure will see many suffer this winter – such targeted attacks are recognised as a planned warfare tactic to deprive Ukrainians of essential access to heat, electricity and water during the harsh winter period. Lack of such essentials during such a crucial time has led to further displacement and evacuations, with many fleeing to neighbouring countries.

Those already displaced around Europe have been advised NOT to return to Ukraine and instead to spend the winter abroad, to help ease the pressure on the energy system and ensure the survival of those unable to leave. Those able to flee are reliant upon the goodwill of individuals and communities willing and able to host them. The UK government launched the Homes for Ukraine Scheme in March 2022, in response to public calls of help for displaced Ukrainians. This was met by overwhelming support and resulted in matches across the country, providing refuge to many Ukrainians in need. Both hosts and guests have benefited from this opportunity, and have provided testimonies of their experience.

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, Bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London, spoke with the Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales about the devastating impact of the war and the impact it will have on future generations, whilst praising the solidarity and welcome received by Ukrainians across the country – the full video can be viewed on their website.

To best support newly arrived Ukrainians with welcome and integration, The Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London, together with the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, set up The Ukrainian Welcome Centre. The centre was visited by His Majesty King Charles III and Ukraine’s First Lady Mrs Olena Zelenska in November this year, a visit noted by Bishop Kenneth to ‘offer a powerful sign of solidarity between the people of the United Kingdom and our sisters and brothers in Ukraine’. The interview can be listened to online.

No-one quite imagined the war would continue into winter, and as the initial period of support came to an end, it became evident that the need for shelter and safe accommodation remained a priority for those displaced and fleeing. Those who were initially matched, found they needed further hosting support as they tried to find employment and independent housing, a need that was graciously met by many hosts. However, the need remains high for those seeking a rematch and for those fleeing Ukraine this winter due to ongoing Russian attacks on key infrastructure.

Whilst we are acutely aware of the problems the UK is facing, not least the cost-of-living crisis which has greatly impacted many individuals and communities, we call upon those able to extend support to consider hosting Ukrainians in need.

CSAN partnered with St John of God (SJOG) to launch a matching service for the Catholic community and are actively seeking hosts, further information for which can be found online. The SJOG team conducted in-person information sessions about the scheme and what hosting entails. They have further sessions planned for the new year, information for which can be found on their Facebook page. You may also register via the CSAN Eventbrite page which has listed both online and in-person events.

The Liverpool event saw many interested individuals and supporters of Ukraine attend, with talks from experienced hosts and welcomed guests about the importance of this scheme. The next event is scheduled for Middlesbrough on 21 January 2023.

To learn more about the Ukraine matching service, hosting refugees or other government schemes, see the CSAN Guide to Refugee Resettlement.