Couple welcoming Ukrainian arrivals say refugees are just like their own family

A retired chief executive preparing to put up some of the first Ukrainian refugee arrivals in the UK says he and his wife felt compelled to do so because the women and children fleeing war resembled their own family so much.

Steve and Anne Pearce will provide a home for Kateryna, 28, her sister Daryna, 32, and her four-year-old son, Yuroslav with them in Ilkley, West Yorkshire.

The women, from near Kyiv, have been forced to leave behind their mother, husband, boyfriend and grandmother.

“We have a daughter and a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren, and we related to the girls we saw getting on trains waving goodbye to their husbands,” said Mr Pearce.

“And the more we watched, we more we could transpose our kids’ lives on to these people just like us. We registered for the Homes for Ukraine scheme but I fully expected it to take a long time.”

The couples were matched up by Kevin Cabra Netherton and Oli Reynolds, who have voluntarily set up a desk near the Polish border to match refugees with volunteer hosts in the Leeds area.

Mr Pearce, 63, a former IT chief, and his wife, 62, a retired nurse, who have three sons and a daughter in their thirties, will let Kateryna and Daryna live in a small self-contained apartment above their garage, previously used by their children before they left home.

“We felt if we could get a young mother and child that mapped onto our children – because we have equipment such as a car seat – it would be ideal,” Mr Pearce said.

“We had our first video meeting and struck a chord.

Daryna, left, and Kateryna

(Kevin Goat Netherton)

“They’re quite emotionally affected. I don’t think they’ve seen absolute horrors but the journey was clearly very unpleasant – they’ve seen burnt-out cars and tanks, had to walk a bit, had to get a lift and get on trains amid a mêlée.”

While the Ukrainians wait for their UK visas to come through, they are staying in one room with a Polish couple.

“Our generation is privileged – we’ve never known rationing or national service so seeing refugees in Europe has been a shock,” Mr Pearce said.

“Our friends have rally round, bringing two single beds and children’s toys.

“It would have been easy to send a big donation to charities but this was a good opportunity to use a space we’re lucky to have.

The Independent is raising money for the people of Ukraine – if you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

“I kept thinking about if that was my daughter.

“We particularly felt these people deserve help. This has been forced upon them. I would deeply resent being forced out of a happy life.

“They’ve had normal lives ripped away. I can’t imagine what it’s like having to decide which possessions to put in a bag when you’re forced to leave your home.”

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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