Ukrainian refugee mother and daughter face homelessness in desperate search for new sponsor

Olena Znatkova and daughter Daria are currently living in Cardiff but have a month to find a new place to stay after the current host decided to stop sponsoring them. Credit: Media Wales

A Ukrainian mother and daughter living in Wales because of the war with Russia could become homeless if they are unable to find a new sponsor by next month.

Olena Znatkova and daughter Daria left their home country to come to Cardiff when the war broke out, after a family offered to house them as part of the UK's Ukrainian refugee sponsorship scheme.

However with no indication of when the war will end and Ukraine will be safe, some sponsors have decided to end their involvement in the scheme - having not anticipated housing people for months, possibly years.

After already having to flee their home country, Ms Znatkova and her daughter could find themselves without a home again if they cannot find a new sponsor by February 20.

The pair have been through a brutal ordeal since waking on February 24 in Kharkhiv, also known as Kharkov, with the city being bombed around them as Putin's invasion began.

Daria Znatkova remembered the fear of waking up at 6am to the sound of bombs and her mother telling her that Russia had attacked.

She said: "I remember how I fell asleep on the night of February 23. I am blown up from the bed at 6am. Mom's words became an injection of adrenaline: 'Dasha, the war has begun'.

"All my senses disappeared, I was empty, I did not feel thirst, hunger, or other needs, and there was no fear I called everyone that morning. Instead of asking: 'How are you?', I asked: 'Are you alive?'.

Olena and her daughter Daria arrived in Wales in August 2022 ad part of the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme. Credit: Media Wales

"We stayed in Kharkov for another ten days after the start, because my mother could not leave her workplace, but who could have known that enemy fighters would start attacking the city? "We spent the next night in the medical university bunker across from our apartment. I have never experienced such cold, the ceiling crumbled after shock waves from explosions, there was no communication, there was no bread, there was no sleep either. There was only anxiety for the life of my mother."

After nine days spent at the bunker, Ms Znatkova and her daughter were put on an evacuation train to western Ukraine.

"The military stuffed us into the last carriage, where it was full," they said.

"There was no room at all, everyone was lying on top of each other: children, old people, pregnant women, animals. Everyone was in a semi-conscious state."

Ms Znatkova and her daughter said the conditions on the train from Kharkov were cramped and uncomfortable. Credit: Media Wales

Eventually, the mother and daughter joined millions of other Ukrainians forced to leave the country completely and crossed the border into Poland.

They then spent time in Estonia before arriving in Wales in August, after finding refuge in Cardiff via the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme.

Half of the Ukrainian refugees in Wales have entered through the programme, which pairs refugees with members of the Welsh public called 'hosts' or 'sponsors' who are willing to provide accommodation.

This is separate to the Welsh Government's "super sponsor" scheme, where government acts as the responsible host and puts refugees directly into welcome centres like hotels.

Families like Olena and Daria have no right to access that scheme having arrived with a sponsor of their own.

Currently, any refugee asked to leave by their sponsor must present as homeless to their local authority. This is the situation the Znatkova's find themselves in.

WalesOnline reports that more than 1,000 Ukrainian refugee families in England have already had to seek emergency accommodation from local authority homelessness departments in recent months.

They are being placed in hostels, B&Bs and social housing but this in turn puts a strain on council resources.

Ms Znatkova and her daughter now have until February 20 to find a new sponsor. They cannot afford private rent and fear they could end up living on the streets if they are unsuccessful in finding a new host.

Daria said: "At the moment [we] have nowhere to go. I'm worried that I'll be left with things on the street. We can't pay rent right now.

"We want to find a family that can become our sponsor as we continue to adapt to the new conditions of our lives as we study, work and volunteer.

Olena added: "Finding a new sponsor means getting more than just a place to live, but also to feel humanity, mercy and support."

The family have adapted to life in Wales, with Ms Znatkova finding work at a cafe and Daria studying English at college in Cardiff. Credit: Media Wales

Speaking of her life in Cardiff, Ms Znatkova - who does not speak English - said: "I'm going through the stage of social death because due to language barriers, this is a nullification of my experience, my knowledge, my skills.

"I can't put my education into practice - I'm a university lecturer and I'm a Master of Public Administration. I sought a place in a college to study English...I took part in the work of language clubs. In addition, I conduct workshops with Ukrainian refugees, I am the organiser of Ukrainian social and cultural events."

She has struggled to find work in Cardiff but started work at a coffee shop in January.

Her daughter said she has started learning the language and slowly adapting to life here. She studies English at Cardiff and Vale College and hopes to apply for university at the end of the academic year.

The Welsh Government said anyone approaching the end of their sponsorship arrangement should contact their local authority for support.

A Welsh Government spokesman encouraged anyone coming to the end of their sponsorship arrangement to approach their local council and said it was working with local authorities to "increase capacity of high quality accommodation options".

“We are pleased to be providing sanctuary for so many people. This has been a huge Team Wales response to a terrible conflict. This partnership approach will continue as we support people to move on into longer-term accommodation – either to hosts or into private or social housing across Wales.

"Anyone coming to the end of their sponsorship arrangement should approach their local authority to discuss alternative arrangements and appropriate support.“We are working with local authorities, social landlords and partners to increase capacity of high quality accommodation options, including providing more host accommodation, to support everyone who needs a home in Wales.

"As part of this we are investing £65m through our Transitional Accommodation Capital Programme to deliver more good quality longer term accommodation to help everyone in housing need. We are also investing over £197m in homelessness and housing support services.“We have also taken the decision to include £40m in our Draft Budget to continue our support of people from Ukraine in Wales in 2023-24 and a further allocation of £20m in 2024-25. These allocations underline our ongoing commitment as a Nation of Sanctuary to resettle those we have already welcomed and those who are still to arrive.”

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