The Listening Project – English

Salisbury, June 2024


The Salisbury Community Hub for Ukraine has been running since April 1st, 2022, when it was established to support prospective host families as well as Ukrainian families newly arrived to Wiltshire. As community leaders, we have remained in contact with both these groups throughout this time and so they are a vital and integral part of our ongoing support work. They also inform our understanding of the two government schemes, which were hastily set up in early 2022, to support Ukrainians fleeing their country. As part of our ongoing support work, we have observed varying examples of lived experience from both sides of the hosting arrangements. We decided to document some of the experiences through a series of interviews. This small pilot project is our initial reflection on the experience of hosting and of being accommodated, since the outbreak of war on February 24th 2022. Sadly, it is by no means the end of the story as we enter the third year of Russia’s war on Ukraine.


The Homes for Ukraine (H4U) scheme was established by the British Government in March 2022, to provide immediate shelter to the thousands of individuals and families fleeing the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In response to public pressure, the Government invited British citizens to register their interest in hosting a Ukrainian individual or family for a minimum of 6 months. Thousands of people applied, with little pause for thought about how this might unfold in practice or for how long, so great was the need to ‘do something’ and to play an active and positive part in the unfolding tragedy. At the same time, the Ukrainian Family scheme provided rapid visas for family members to join their relatives in the UK. This scheme did not have the same funding and support attached to it as the H4U scheme, although in practice ongoing support by local councils, the healthcare system and by schools, would still be required. Any of the families arriving under the Ukrainian Family scheme did not have adequate accommodation and so this additional support was necessary from the start.

For most host families, the H4U scheme has provided an enriching and rewarding experience. Many host families then signed up for a further period of hosting (either an extension or offering a home to new arrivals) and almost everyone we know has gone far beyond the basic obligation of providing a roof over the family’s head. They have been actively involved in ensuring that the family settles in well and feels secure and integrated: helping with the paperwork, registering for GP services, schools, mobile phones, bank accounts, residency permits, cars and insurance and often looking after the children while the mother went to work. Some hosts have taken their Ukrainian families on holiday, helped them to rent a flat when the time came, very occasionally and bravely acting as guarantors and providing furniture and deliveries!

For some host families as well as Ukrainian refugees, however, the experience has been unexpectedly challenging with both sides encountering pitfalls they did not foresee. Cultural differences have sometimes seemed insurmountable, and communications have been strained especially when ‘Google Translate’ has been the main interpreter. Host families noted a lack of engagement in a family setting or hostility from guest family members, which has caused tension. During the interviews on which this narrative is based, hosts and Ukrainian guests have talked frankly with us about their disappointments and have wanted to seek some understanding as to why this has happened (fully acknowledging that their preparations and expectations might have been unrealistic and that these may have contributed to misunderstandings). We feel privileged to be part of this account, but we also believe and hope that it could inform future thinking on how we treat those seeking refuge in Britain.

We believe that the H4U scheme and the Ukrainian Family scheme present a unique moment in history which we hope will never need to be repeated. The Listening Project seeks to capture that moment by listening to those experiences (both positive and negative) and creating the narrative that follows. Through this activity, we hope that those who have hosted and those who have arrived in Wiltshire, will be able to process their ‘journey’ and appreciate and derive positive outcomes from the experience.

This is a pilot project of just 6 Ukrainian guest families and 6 British host families (not necessarily the same households) so in no way does it claim to be comprehensive. We know there are more voices to be heard and that this could be developed into a larger piece of work accompanied by creative contributions by participants (art, film, poetry, music, dance). We are already applying for further funding to continue and expand the project.

Salisbury Community Hub for Ukraine and the families it supports

The Hub was established on April 1st, 2022, following a public meeting at the Methodist Church to address a number of concerns of prospective hosts. As soon as the first families began to arrive, this developed into a full service of advice and support for both British hosts and Ukrainian guests. The team grew quickly so that the Hub was able to deliver regular English language classes (four times a week); a 24/7 response via phone and email; a weekly coffee morning; healthcare sessions and employment fairs; advice on just about everything from schools, housing, benefits to assistance with registering cars and pets in the UK. A vital bridge between the Hub and the Ukrainian community was provided by a Ukrainian with long term residency in Britain. He established the 24/7 WhatsApp group which is still a fantastic resource of shared advice and support.

We now have a vibrant, multi-generational Ukrainian community in and around Salisbury, with many families securing rented accommodation for the longer term. Some families have been here since the end of March 2022. Some are newly arrived and welcomed into a community that now knows how to complete all the necessary paperwork and which is full of advice and support on everything ranging from form filling, visiting the GP, how to register your car and how regularly you can travel back to Ukraine without jeopardising your (and your hosts’) rights. The community shares news of accommodation coming up for rent, where to get the best furniture deals, notification of employment opportunities and free cultural events.

We estimate that at the peak of 2022, there were around 150 families living in the area although some have returned to pick up their lives in Ukraine and others have moved on to other countries such as Spain, Germany, America and Canada. Although our current community is smaller, we are still welcoming families from Ukraine.

The majority of our guests came from Western and Central Ukraine: from Lviv, Kyiv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Odesa. We also had families from the East of the country: from Irpin, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Mariupol, Kherson, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia. A few came from the Donbas region, but in general it seems people fleeing the regions closest to the Russian border made it as far as Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia. From there they stayed in the nearest available shelters, too exhausted and frightened and destitute to travel any further.

Some families had already fled the Donbas region in 2014 only to find themselves fleeing again in 2022. And several men were also second-time refugees, having fled Kazakhstan and Georgia, married in Ukraine and then been forced to flee again. In addition to being displaced, they experienced a degree of hostility towards them whilst being hosted in Wiltshire and online, because they were young and not fighting in Ukraine.

In the beginning

Everyone stayed with their host families, most of whom provided wrap around support for their guests which was far beyond their ‘contractual’ obligation to the Government. The first few weeks were a steep learning curve for everyone, from central and local government, towns, villages, spontaneous ad hoc groups and informal hubs right down to the individual families. Like so many other groups, the Salisbury Community Hub worked round the clock to support both British hosts and Ukrainian families as well as to provide a vital link with the H4U department at Wiltshire Council. As an early host and Hub member (H1) explains:

In the first 3 weeks we worked through all the perceived priorities: applying for the initial £200 per head cash voucher, setting up her bank account and phones, applying for Universal Credit, child benefit, national insurance (NI) number and biometric residence permit (BRP) applications, applying to the school for A, buying uniform and registering at our GP. This included 2 appointments at the Job Centre (and subsequently helping Z. write her CV) and later travelling to Bath for the biometrics appointment.

Our family was an early arrival and so nothing was ready:

  • Wiltshire inspected the house after our guests had arrived and interviewed them at the same time to check that everything was in order but never appointed a case worker.
  • The shops participating in the £200 cash voucher scheme, knew nothing about the vouchers and did not have enough cash in the till! It took us 3 visits to get the £600 to which they were entitled.
  • We filled out basic information repeatedly for the different government departments. Some questions were ambiguous. Some computer applications were difficult to follow leading to multiple attempts.
  • We repeatedly tried to get a BRP appointment (in Bath) before finally succeeding.
  • Getting the free bus pass from Salisbury REDS was torture for all!

During the first few weeks of the conflict the Hub sought the advice of organisations with experience of hosting asylum seekers. The remarkable CEO of Refugees at Home, Sara Nathan, gave us welcome and perceptive advice and warned us that there would be breakdowns and problems. I don’t think we expected these to happen as quickly as they did but it was helpful to know that this was par for the course. Some of these were anticipated and have been well documented in the press over the past 18 months. Many Ukrainians requested sponsors (hosts) through Facebook and Instagram with the obvious risks this posed. The Family scheme offered visas to family members of resident Ukrainians even though they did not always have adequate accommodation for them. This presented other challenges such as immediate breakdowns over the inappropriateness of the accommodation. Other issues, however, stemmed from multigenerational families living under the same roof, when they had not lived together in Ukraine. In the early days, it was the team at the Hub which resolved many of these issues but in time, the Council increased its capacity and took over more of the support that was needed.

Gradually people settled into schools, found jobs, brought over more family members and moved into rented accommodation. With this increased confidence and facility with English language and customs, came a willingness to give back and play a key role in the life of the community. And this is where we find ourselves in 2024.

A note on language and the role it has played

The majority of our guests use Ukrainian as their first language and most of them have opted not to speak Russian (although they know the language well, having learnt it at school). This has given rise to both interesting and heated debates within the Ukrainian community. Some members of the community, however, speak Russian as their mother tongue. We have guests who are ethnically Russian but who lived in Ukraine for most of their lives. Members of the Jewish community speak Russian in Ukraine. People coming from Eastern Ukraine tend to speak Russian first and Ukrainian second. For these groups, this ‘exclusion’  through others refusing to speak their language  is painful, isolating and can feel stigmatising.

There is one other dimension which is acutely distressing for many of our guests but which is not clearly visible. This is the fact that they have been separated from their family members – physically, emotionally and politically – by Russia. Some have parents in Crimea or in the far Eastern part of Ukraine who approve of Putin’s invasion. Others have members of their family who moved to Russia in 2014 and with whom they no longer communicate. Others have siblings who work for Russia and who have cut off ties with anyone who has travelled West. By the same token, two ethnically Russian families left Mariupol but could not find a place of welcome until they arrived in Salisbury. They have not felt comfortable enough, however, to mix with the Ukrainian community here. Happily, however, they had exceptionally supportive and sensitive hosts.

While staying with their hosts, the lack of a common language was mentioned as the main barrier to comfortable communication and being at ease in someone else’s home. In some cases, the younger generation spoke good English and so translated for the rest of the family. Elsewhere, the app, ‘Say Hi!’ was used to communicate, with a mixture of laughter and frustration. Polish proved a useful language since this is closer to the Ukrainian language than Russian and we have been well supported on a number of occasions by the resident Polish community. It helped too that several of the Hub team and Council case workers were able to communicate in Slavic languages.

For one host family, the use of translated texts only (rather than direct communication) became a real bone of contention and ultimately a domestic battleground.


The Questionnaire

Given the complexity of multiple languages and the potential for misunderstandings, it felt important to ensure that Ukrainians were interviewed by Ukrainians in whichever language they preferred. Two teams of interviewers (British and Ukrainian) used the same open-ended questionnaire as the basis for a discussion with each host and guest. The questions were grouped under 4 headings with the agreement that the conversations would be free flowing, led by the interviewee and not time restricted.

Part 1 before the family arrives: context, reasons for hosting and applying to come to UK

Part 2 arrival: preparations and first impressions (both positive and negative)

Part 3 present day: work, home life, social life, intentions for the coming year

Part 4 looking into the future: reflections on the scheme, what could have been done differently, long term plans


Prior to carrying out the interviews, the team made no concrete decisions about how to present the results, realising that the process of recounting the experience could be sufficient for each participant, without the need to place it in the public domain. We acknowledged that reflecting on the last 18 months could cause both pain and distress and so sought to provide a safe and reassuring space for each person, so that they could speak honestly and freely. We thought that anonymity, as far as possible, was important.

Rather than recounting each interview in detail therefore, we teased out some of the recurring themes which highlight both the positives of the experience as well as some of the challenges (many of which could perhaps have been avoided with a little more preparation and knowledge). We have also sought to celebrate some of the most uplifting moments in everyone’s experience of hosting and being hosted in Britain.

The thematic strands

  • Intentions
  • Preparations
  • Expectations
  • Impressions
  • What has worked well
  • What has could have worked better
  • Lessons for the future
  • How we can support all of our migrant communities


Reasons for hosting, reasons for coming to UK

We wanted to understand what had motivated hosts to register to accommodate a family and what they did to prepare for their arrival. We wanted to learn from the Ukrainians, how and why they chose to come to Britain and how they found, or were matched with, their host family.

With the British hosts there was a degree of uniformity. People expressed an immediate, urgent and instinctive need to do something rather than watching the news every night as the horror of a war in the 21st Century unfolded. The fact that it was a war on European soil, with the acknowledgement that this was actually a proxy war being fought on our behalf, prompted people to open their homes without really pausing to think through the detail and potential impact on their lives. For some hosts, particularly people living on their own, the need for company was a powerful motivator. For most hosts, the financial monthly payment was not a factor, although as utility bills quadrupled during the winter months, many reflected that it was useful.

H2: We felt we needed to stay in UK when we retired but we wanted to do something practical. My husband came from a family of refugees and there was always someone else in the house growing up, so it was quite clear cut for us. We didn’t prevaricate, we both agreed.

H3: I had 3 reasons: the war in Ukraine; I wanted company as my wife died just under 2 years ago and I thought it would be very nice to have people in the house; it was an opportunity and I was able to offer them 2 bedrooms and a separate bathroom.

H4: We were sitting in the Cosy Club when we heard and we just knew we had to do something. We had space. We should offer. I emailed a Rabbi who was very proactive at the time. I remember he said, ‘I don’t care which faith they have’. Then the Government launched the H4U scheme, which with hindsight I do feel was too rushed and not well thought out. There were lots of groups – it was almost like Tinder – it was gross really. We ended up looking on Facebook. In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have gone down that route but waited for the charities and local support groups. We had some of our own family issues, with our extended family, so maybe this was another reason for wishing to help. We wanted to do something positive – and this WAS positive.

As the horror of those first few weeks of the conflict were fading for most of us, it came as a timely reminder to read the accounts of each Ukrainian family’s terror and utter disbelief, followed by the frantic decision to head West by whatever means, leaving homes, husbands, sons, parents and personal effects behind. It is easy to forget just how harrowing those first few days were in every corner of Ukraine: the explosions, the endless sirens, the queues of cars bound for the borders but which ran out of fuel en route, the packed trains with children matching their palms against their fathers’ on the train windows, the makeshift centres and camps in Poland, Moldova and Romania.

People’s reasons for coming to the UK were varied. Some had friends and family who recommended UK. Others heard about the H4U scheme and then sought contacts through Facebook, Opora and Sunflower Sisters rather than waiting for a random matching service. Of particular relevance, is the view that in Poland and other European countries, a Ukrainian’s status was that of refugee (with some of the stigma that comes with such a categorisation) whereas in UK, they had the status of displaced person or guest with the right to work as soon as they landed:

G1: In UK you were a guest, in Poland you were a refugee.

For some it was a long-held dream to come to England, for others the son or daughter in the family already spoke excellent English and this proved to be a huge practical advantage. Whether premeditated or not, all of the interviews are permeated with a sense of chaos and journeying into the complete unknown during those first few weeks.

G3: We didn’t know where we were going. We were bombed en route; we drove very very fast. It was a whole family decision with the children too. I didn’t want my children to know the fear we felt. I don’t want them to be afraid and I was afraid.

It was difficult living in Poland and Slovakia: cramped, not enough food and showers.

G2: We lived 20km from the Belarus border, so felt very threatened. My daughter spoke very good English so posted on Facebook and did a BBC interview. She was pregnant so she needed to get out.

We stayed in Poland for 4 days at a Red Cross mission. Then we went to friends in Gdansk but it was very cramped and not very comfortable.

It was unexpected. Let’s say all life is in one suitcase. We had to pack things but then didn’t know what time or where we were going. What can you count on?

G4: It was very scary when the war broke out. My supervisor woke me up at 5.30. My husband was abroad at the time but my children were with me in Ukraine.

My overall feeling when I arrived was one of fear. Fear of leaving Ukraine. Fear of coming here. Fear of leaving the family, fear of nowhere, everywhere. It was as if we were moving forward with our eyes closed. We drove with our eyes closed. You collect everything in one bag and then leave.

G1: Immense shock of the war starting. Could not believe it. Was in a terrible state at the beginning. You worry about your child, you worry about everything in the world.

I have a lump in my throat – it’s so scary that it’s impossible to imagine because my son is sleeping next to me in bed – he was 7.

Driving, refuelling, gas stations ran out of gas, bridge collapsed behind us on Feb 25th.

I couldn’t bring myself to stop reading the news. But even this is not the greatest pressure on the psyche but constant air alarms that sound with such volume… stress in every cell… very difficult. We waited a long time to have our son and then I had to take him away from his father.

I left for Poland first and had to rent a hotel at my own expense to wait 3 weeks for the visa. And it was exhausting in terms of expectation, time and money. I did not leave Ukraine as a refugee. I just went abroad and rented a hotel and lived with my son in a hotel in Krakow.

For many, the opportunity to learn English and to obtain an education for their children was and still is, paramount.

G3: Well, you see, I know that I will be able to work, I will be able to earn money, wherever I am. I am not afraid to work either with my hands or my head. And there is no such thing as a bad job, right? The janitor, the dishwasher – whatever, it’s all work. And my crown won’t fall off – it’s held on, it’s holding on; it doesn’t bother me. Also, I read a lot before entering this program. I have read in full what rights I will have. And well, I have since the first day. I’m used to having my life in my hands and to rely on myself.

G5: The salaries are much higher than in Ukraine. The standard of living is still what you can afford here for an average salary. Big difference, more opportunities, everything is new, then there is a new language, new mentality, people, some visions, new goals as long as you put the effort in.

I thought with admiration that it was my childhood dream to see how people live here, the culture, the football and sport generally.

G2: I needed my pregnant daughter to be safe and she spoke good English; but for me it was a shock. I don’t know the language and I don’t know where I’m going.

Before we established the Hub in Salisbury, we invited Sara Nathan, CEO of Refugees at Home, to talk to us about some of the potential pitfalls of hosting. Sara was full of practical advice and profound wisdom, both of which have sustained us throughout this period, particularly when things were not going smoothly.

SN: There will be breakdowns, of course these will happen, and they will often be over the smallest thing, rather than the really big issues she warned. For some, it’s the last banana in the fruit bowl which you earmark as your breakfast on the way up to bed…only to discover that your guest has eaten it last thing at night and not replaced it.

Guests began to arrive in Wiltshire from March 30th onwards. It soon became clear that the process of settling in and adaptation to life under one roof, unfolded in very different ways. The Hub began to receive phone calls from distressed Ukrainians asking if we could help with translation between them and their hosts, whether we could tell them how to cash their £200 voucher, whether they could get a free bus pass and in a couple of cases, whether we could find them alternative accommodation quickly or an extra host for the family, as there were huge tensions within the same Ukrainian unit. This seems to occur where there is a big age gap between siblings and different fathers as well as multi-generational Ukrainian families.

For many of us, ‘the last banana’ became the leitmotif of the hosting experience and we were understandably curious to find out what had tipped things over the edge for some and why other relationships had endured well beyond the 6-month period.

We felt it was important to understand the reasons behind breakdowns in communication and relationships, as well as to celebrate the more positive experiences. We asked about the expectations on each side and whether these hopes were shared and whether they were realistic. We wanted to hear what preparations each side had made before meeting each other, how they communicated before travelling and what hosts did before their guests arrived. Where the Ukrainian son or daughter spoke very good English, this was a definite benefit but we were also pleasantly surprised that Polish speakers could converse easily with Ukrainian guests.

Although the sole requirement under the H4U scheme was to provide a roof over the guests’ heads and nothing further, we have already acknowledged that most British hosts provided huge amounts of practical support and help both prior to the family’s arrival and once they had arrived. They helped with paperwork, translation, visa applications, contacting the Home Office and helping with flights. Then they collected the family from the airport and strove to make their homes welcoming. Many hosts continued to provide support, whether it was as a ‘taxi service’ because they lived out of town and/or to provide childcare so that the mother could study English and work.

Much has been written about erstwhile Defence Secretary Ben Wallace’s comment on gratitude and how he expected Ukrainians to thank Britain for its generosity; and the Ukrainian Ambassador to London was subsequently sacked for contributing to this debate and for criticising Zelensky. It’s a useful question though: do we do what we do because we wish to be praised and thanked for it, or do we do it out of a sense of responsibility, compassion, duty with perhaps a tinge of guilt and gratitude to Ukraine that we have avoided the full blast of war as they fight a proxy war on Europe’s behalf? The issue of ‘personal agendas’ is a fascinating one and probably informs some of the attitudes expressed here. It could also explain some of the disappointments and misunderstandings that arose.


How did our group of British hosts get ready?

Although the wait was frustratingly long in some cases, there was still a sense of excitement and rushed preparation once the guest had received their visa and the family was on the way.

H2: I cleared out the room (and we had a lot of stuff). I enjoyed buying new bedding, a fluffy rug which I would never have bought for myself but thought it would be lovely and of course it’s exactly what she would like. Our neighbours gave her 100 pounds and another neighbour cooks 3 cakes instead of 2 now!

H3: I had not disposed of my late wife’s clothing so I had to clear cupboards and take her clothes to a charity shop.

I told them I didn’t want any house rules – if we didn’t like anything we would just tell each other; but that has hardly ever happened. We have a lot of room but we share equal rights downstairs in the shared space. I don’t have any privileges at all. Having said that, they have very generously fitted into my way of doing things and if my late wife walked in now, I don’t think she would notice any difference.

H5: Anticipation tinged with apprehension. I think I was looking for female companionship which was actually totally unrealistic. On a practical level, we established dietary requirements/preferences; set up bedroom, study, bathroom for her private use together with empty drawers and cupboards; provided pegs for clothes and space for shoes at the front door; arranged that the only things she had to share were the cooker and washing machine; engaged with detailed guidance from the Hub and joined a Wiltshire online WhatsApp group for hosts. In retrospect and in our particular situation, we should have read Owen Matthews’ ‘OverReach’ for a better understanding of the political situation and history.

H6: No we didn’t really make any preparations, I suppose looking back you think – Gosh we were naïve!

We know from our discussion with other hosts, that the more they prepared either as a village or a group of hosts, the quicker it was for families to find their feet, to meet other Ukrainians nearby and to share transport and information. The cluster of hosts in the villages along the Chalke Valley was particularly strategic in this way and it enabled hosting in a relatively rural area to work extremely well.

Nevertheless, there is no comparison between the H4U stated expectations and what British hosts actually did for their guests once they had arrived.


G3: To be honest, I didn’t expect anything, I didn’t have any illusions.

H6: What we had envisaged was family coming to us, to get themselves straight, their heads straight and grieve for loss of country and then pull themselves together and go forward. And only the father did that.


By far the majority of impressions on both sides, were positive. This was greatly assisted by the flexibility of the H4U scheme and the opportunities it provided such as being able to work immediately, having access to universal credit, benefits, pensions and free transport and healthcare (not free of charge in Ukraine) and being able to place the children in appropriate schools.

The key difference is in the official status of Ukrainians. They are not refugees or asylum seekers; but ‘guests’ or ‘temporarily displaced persons’. This is a significant departure from previous governmental rulings on refugees and asylum seekers as these groups are not able to work until they receive confirmation of their right to remain. So from the outset, the way they have been treated and consequently the way they feel about themselves is very different. And of course they were primarily living in someone’s private home rather than in a centre or a hotel.

Very early on, Sara Nathan had observed that Ukrainians did not see themselves as refugees at all and that this affected their attitude to starting a new life in Britain.

SN: They fled in such a hurry and arrived here in just a few weeks, so they never had time to get used to the fact that they were refugees in the same way that someone travelling across 10 borders over a year or more, becomes accustomed to being a stateless refugee with no entitlement.

Ukrainian Impressions:

G2: Fine, very nice area, where we lived, the nature was also very beautiful, the territory was clean, everything was well kept there. And I myself will say that the houses are so beautifully decorated with flowers. There are no big fences like in Ukraine. I am not afraid in the country even when I’m alone.

G5: Second sponsor very different: from the first conversation, the first meeting, you see what he has and is. The difference between his upbringing and the vision of such an intelligent person, here are napkins, here is a fork, here is a knife, everything is according to the rules of etiquette, to entertain, offer tea, sweets of some kind, this is the first thing I notice. It means he is educated. During the entire period with him he never said anything critical or negative. Then he even said stay as long as you need. We lived well together.

G1: After my first sponsor and when I found new ones and came to the town, a radically different life began: involvement in the community, feeling like a part of the community, learning the language, meeting other Ukrainians, learning about the Hub in Salisbury and meeting Jane… and Beth and Katie in the church – I think it is important to hear how angels speak to you.

G3: English people: they are very nice people. They are open. They will listen to you, they want to understand you and help you. They are very warm people. Maybe because the weather here is not always good, the people are warm!

Even if people cannot help you (estate agents for example) they try to do it gently like this. The manner of communication and other people help on the street. This is so different from Ukraine.

When you ask for directions they will show you, if they don’t know, they will apologise. They are positive.

Salisbury Hub – a very big positive, I already said. Very positive, nice people who help a lot.

British impressions

H6: She loves school and school loves her which is terrific. I have to say that the NHS and the medical support for a child with special needs together with the school support, have been fantastic. In some ways we did pull a short straw because of the issues we encountered but ah … it has been hugely educational … um … I feel extraordinarily fortunate. I haven’t come across people with disabilities in my life. It is good to have this experience. Our lives are easier than theirs.

H2: She is very clean and tidy and works really hard. She is very much part of the family and gives gifts to everyone. It was huge having the overflowing love and gratitude but that meant I had to set boundaries.

The friendships we have made from the experience (British and Ukrainian) heals some of the damage done in the world.

H3: It was easy for me because both of them speak good English.

Laughter, mutual respect, mutual support – sometimes they support me, sometimes I support them.

Learning each other’s cultures.

They are incredibly tidy – dishes never stay in the sink for long.

I feel very positive about my experience of hosting: happier, younger with the pleasure of having company around.

If they do return (to Ukraine) I shall be very sad. Although there have been criticisms that the government was slow to respond, countries that took them earlier than we did have not necessarily treated them as well.

H5: There did not seem to be positives except the sense that we were trying to contribute to alleviate the suffering caused by an international incident.

H4: She works really hard and contributes. She has a heart of gold and is like a dog whisperer in our house! But other members of the family did not help. She wasn’t my child but she was living in my house. She should have respected this. Initially we felt we needed to give them sanctuary and not set rules; but I wish we had been clearer from the start… Yes, a lot of people didn’t realise how corrupt Ukraine is. All those years under Russia. A Russian mind-set.


The H4U scheme is seen by many as a real success and it has demonstrated the necessity and the value of a strong collaboration between the government, the voluntary sector and individuals. It has been so well received that many Ukrainians are seeking to move to UK from elsewhere in Europe.

It was, however, planned as a 6-month scheme with an extension of 2.5 years to remain in the UK. We are now in the third year of the war in Ukraine and no clear end is in sight. There is uncertainty over what happens after these first 3 years which is understandably very unsettling for many Ukrainians. On the other hand, there is a palpable degree of fatigue within the British population, which is evident in hosts’ comments on social media nationally and in reduced responses to fresh applications.

Summary of positives

Employment: being allowed to work from day one, over 80% of our Ukrainian community is now working. Though not necessarily doing the jobs for which they are qualified, they are nevertheless pleased to be making enough money to live on, to send back to Ukraine and to build for the future.

Financial benefits: the access to a raft of benefits and concessions (with administrative support from the hosts) has enabled most families to live, work, travel and plan for the future. Pensioners (of whom there are many) receive over 700 pounds each month whereas in Ukraine their pensions were closer to 50 pounds a month. This is in stark contrast to the provision for refugees and asylum seekers, although the two governmental resettlement programmes for Afghan families are similarly well provided financially.

Healthcare: Ukrainians were amazed to find that NHS treatment and medication is free. This is not the case in Ukraine. Many of our guests are elderly and for them, this is a hugely attractive benefit.

We have one wonderful host family that specifically sponsored a family with disability so that they could benefit from their adapted house. The host wrote recently to say how delighted she has been with the arrangement. Her invitation to her guests is open ended.

Education: many Ukrainian families have said that they wish to stay in the UK so that their children can receive a full education in England. They see this as a real opportunity. Several boys and girls are attending the grammar schools in Salisbury while a number of other children and teenagers have places at public schools in the area. They were, however, quite critical of the British education system.

Practical support: in Salisbury we were immensely fortunate to have a Ukrainian national in our midst who has provided support, advice and care around the clock for the community. Setting up a WhatsApp group for the community in the early days, this has now grown to a lively membership of over 200. He has also been able to employ a number of Ukrainians in his line of work.

The Salisbury Hub for Ukraine comprises a strong team of 8 highly qualified volunteers with vital support from the Salisbury Methodist Church and many other organisations (Salisbury City Council, The Pantry Partnership, the Food Bank, Wiltshire Creative, and many committed individuals). The Chalke Valley group, Downton Hub and Amesbury Hub, also offer practical, social and emotional support to clusters of families that cannot get into Salisbury.

Although initially quite overwhelmed by the volume of arrivals into Wiltshire, the Council gradually increased its team of staff to match the demands of the community, principally around accommodation, moving on, healthcare and financial need.

All of these advantages have been mentioned by both hosts and guests whom we interviewed as part of the listening project. Ukrainians with disability, serious illness such as cancer and diabetes found the care by the NHS to be superlative, while schools in the area offered places to every child, with teachers and children going out of their way to make the school welcoming and safe.

Cultural exchange: this has been an area of mutual enjoyment and benefit as the Ukrainian community has found its place and developed the capacity to give back to the local community. We now hold regular market events, lectures, celebrations of festivals and anniversaries, film screenings, all of which are accompanied by Ukrainian cuisine. As of October 2023, the Ukrainians have established their own Hub to ensure that their children don’t lose their Ukrainian language and they are able to keep fit, mentally well and maintain their unique culture.

Less positive impressions:

Inevitably, while most of the experiences have been positive, there have also been some bumps along the way, and a key part of our project was to enable people to process anything that was bothering them or that they wished to share and process. By talking about their experiences, we hoped that they might gain some insight into why it had not been quite as they envisaged.

G3: What is usual for us is somehow strange here and what is usual here is strange for us

One very interesting comment which permeated the discussions with the Ukrainian guests was their evident surprise at the general attitude to work and to receiving benefits in Britain. While very grateful for the universal credit, the allowances and the concessions that were available on arrival to the UK, there was surprise that so many people in Britain who were capable of working, chose not to: Laziness, lack of diligence, they are in no hurry, I don’t like that some people live on donations and benefits. You come here and work hard; but when you look around you see that these people don’t want to work, all featured in their commentaries on employment. Strikingly all of those interviewed are doing jobs well beneath their qualifications and yet they are extremely grateful to be working and earning.

There were some cultural differences that were highlighted as causing unexpected tensions. In particular these were often around childcare and attitudes to education. This is not surprising since so many of the hosts became involved in supporting the young families directly, so that the mother could go to work.

Education and childcare: the Ukrainians feel that the education system in the UK is very mixed. They don’t like the ‘soft’ approach and feel that children can cruise through school without working very hard but always be praised! Many Ukrainian families are doing double schooling: British schooling by day, followed by online Ukrainian school after hours and they are now planning to set up a Saturday school for their children so that they can maintain their language and culture.

G3: I see many differences between the Ukrainian and British education. You have to be motivated in the UK. You can attend and leave and still have a certificate: They will still write, ‘What a handsome boy he is. What a beautiful girl, she read 5 words somewhere, yes, this is an achievement and tomorrow – 6! Oh well done!’ This is unusual for us! We demand a lot more from our children. Nevertheless, a British education helps to give children social skills and confidence with others. British system teaches children that they should learn by themselves and not under coercion. Maybe that’s a good thing. And you are not looked down on here, as garbage.

G4: I was shocked. In the beginning I understood from my hosts that you cannot leave children on their own. This is much easier in Ukraine. I am having to get used to hyper care or micromanagement of my child.

Schooling – the system in Ukraine is much deeper and more complex but knowing 2 languages gives very good opportunities.

For one of our hosts, the experience of education for her two teenage guests was not satisfactory. This was partly because of their ages but also because of the timing of their arrival:

H1: Our two teenagers arrived on 22nd April 2022, and the girl started school three weeks later. Despite virtually no English, she was thrown in at the deep end, without any additional/intensive language help (she was however well supported at a pastoral level by an individual teacher who spoke Russian). As she had already started school, we did not enrol her in the summer school (which started in July before the end of term), but lack of language meant that she had very little time to make friends before the summer holidays, leaving her isolated. It was largely this which caused her to return to Ukraine in September for her final year of Ukrainian education. Returning in June 2023, she attended the Summer School, improving her language skill and, more importantly, helping her make some Ukrainian friends.

The boy was nearly 16 when he arrived. We asked if he could stay down a year, to have a year in school to improve his English before making choices for college. This was refused. We asked to see a careers advisor, which was arranged, but he could not start college until September. He did a 4-week part time English course at the college that summer and was told he needed to take English language classes until his language was considered good enough for him to join his chosen mechanics course. Ultimately, he too decided to return to Ukraine, but the worsening situation (regular power cuts etc) meant he came back to the UK in January. He secured an apprenticeship at the restaurant where his mother works, and where he had worked part time during the summer of 2022, and is happy to be there, and being paid.

Conclusion: Some intensive language training would have been beneficial for all those children with a low level of English.

Differing approaches to cooking and to childcare – in a couple of circumstances, the first host family turned out to be a very negative experience; but this usually meant that the second (and more carefully matched arrangement) was much more successful and highly appreciated. The reasons for the breakdown in hosting relationships have been hugely varied. Some were anticipated and caused by geographical isolation, social isolation, misunderstandings from the outset, unrealistic expectations. Some were highly specific and ranged from two men being hosted by two men; one woman whose new husband had extended the initial invitation not wishing to share her home, to Ukrainian families having internal intergenerational disputes and wanting to split up as soon as they arrived in England.

G3: We lived separately for a long time because the sponsor told us on the second day that we should look for housing. I found a flat, I already had money for the down payment and the deposit. My friends helped me to move and the Hub. So if I hadn’t been so determined to move, then maybe there wouldn’t have been this flat later on!

G5: Main negative aspect was the initial experience with first hosts. Loneliness and there is no one near you who you can trust 100% and share something with.

G4: It was hard to realise that we were living with strangers in their house. To be honest the conditions were much better than we expected. I think we are very lucky.

Language was main issue and I had to take courses (my host helped!).

G2: Hosts didn’t always make clear directly what they wanted: attitude, opinion about us, what they wanted from us. They did not tell us this. We had to trust it was all OK and it wasn’t always.

A completely different mentality you had to get used to it. You adjust because you are in someone else’s family in someone else’s house, that is to learn what they like what they don’t like, well to adapt as it were. My experience was POSITIVE – there were no negatives for me. They met, brought, provide a house, rooms, the care was good and much appreciated.

G1: I didn’t feel much warmth from the first meeting. I just thought we are different people. After all we are Ukrainians, these are Englishmen in our understanding. There used to be such a notion that the English or British are quite restrained, unemotional with a specific sense of humour that they are often snobs and so on. What surprised me was that we arrived after a long flight, no sleep, hungry and dirty… and it turned out that when we arrived with heavy suitcase, our rooms were on the 2nd floor. Big strong man did not help! No food, no shower. In this situation they stressed me. It was sort of ‘go to your room with the child’.

I understand that there can be a language barrier but ignorance of language is compensated a hundredfold with kindness, warmth of heart and sincerity.

My host did everything practically to ease our passage. Lots of things were done properly; but his new wife obviously felt threatened and didn’t want us there.

They wanted me to feel grateful all the time for everything they had done.

H1: Hosts providing food in the early stages was possibly an example of misplaced generosity. Obviously, this was necessary in the first few days but we spoke with several mothers who insisted that they needed to be able to cook for their families to re-establish feelings of self-worth and independence. So, we cooked for all of us initially but quickly moved to alternating the cooking between my husband and Z. for our evening meal, which helped to strengthen our relationship. After 2 months once they all had jobs or were at school, we cooked separately agreeing occasional shared meals informally as commitments allowed. We answered lots of questions and interacted to help them with their English (making reams of post-it notes to put on the fridge/kettle/window etc).

As a footnote: one of the biggest cultural differences we experienced was our attitudes to indoor heating! Ukrainians are used to having extremely warm homes which are subsidised by the government. They were shocked by how cold our homes are and wanted to install additional heaters in their rooms.


Communications: most of the Ukrainians felt that there was a serious lack of reliable translation and interpretation at critical times of their settling in period. An initial lack of interpreters at Council level and in relevant organisations such as the Job Centre and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau led to increased frustration in the early days. Equally there was confusion over benefits, a multiplicity of forms to complete, issues over driving licences and vehicle insurance. A final area of difficulty (and expense) was around getting Ukrainian qualifications recertified in English so that people could work in their chosen professions.

Employment: there was a general plea to have more support for Ukrainians to find appropriate employment. Although 80% of our Ukrainian community is employed (some people work multiple shifts in different places) their work does not usually reflect their qualifications. This is sometimes due to the level of English spoken but it is often due to the lack of recognition of Ukrainian qualifications and certifications. This is an ongoing challenge for many.

H1: Trying to get his qualification as a plasterer validated was expensive and nearly failed. I was told repeatedly by the Construction Industry Certification organisation that it had to be done in two stages through a separate official organisation (hundreds of pounds of additional expense including over £200 for translation of basic diploma certificates). This required obtaining detailed information from his old college (during a war!). This had to be done within 6 months and there was no other way to get his plastering assessed. Only when the time was almost up and I sought the advice of a second organisation did we discover he could be assessed through another scheme to be set up via his employer. I had to appeal for him to be given another temporary card for a further 6 months which was finally granted. Furthermore, for a Ukrainian to deal with the tax office is extremely challenging. Phone calls had to be made at 8.00 and took 45 minutes – 1 hour. I was then accused of prompting him and the call handler refused to accept my assistance, so he was on his own.

Transport: although living in the English countryside after the trauma of fleeing your home and avoiding aerial bombardments, should have provided much needed respite, being hosted in a rural area or village, in the longer term was always going to present challenges. There were so many issues to resolve, including getting the children into Salisbury to attend secondary school (sometimes different schools), and finding appropriate work. Both of these needed access to inexpensive and regular transport.

Although the guests appreciated the initial 2 months of free transport, the paucity of regular buses in rural areas continues to be extremely challenging for many families.

Information: the need to simplify the documents and procedures generally, was a key request from the community. Ukrainians continue to find the forms exceptionally onerous especially without a good command of English.

G1: A lot is unclear and mystifying.

Registering a newborn child and applying for a new passport for example, proved incredibly challenging. Even sorting out utility bills and council tax proved overly complex.

H1: Chatbots simply send you round in circles to pages you have already read. Phone answering systems offer multiple options to get you to the right person but they are not very comprehensible for a foreigner.

Housing: this was the key issue for almost all Ukrainians. Although they appreciated the assistance provided by the Council and by the Hub, there were fundamental hurdles to being able to secure rented accommodation and this remains an ongoing challenge because of the lack of available rental accommodation and the huge numbers of people applying, each time (these applicants were not just Ukrainians but other nationalities as well as local British renters). Ukrainians still feel that the system is unfair and that estate agents and landlords could be ‘educated’ to improve their chances of securing accommodation.

H1: It was noticed by several Ukrainian guests, that social housing was lacking in quality and hygiene.

G2: The Council helped. They didn’t put us out on the street and they provided housing; but it was often horrible, with damp, mould and mice.

On the same topic, many Ukrainians felt that the checks on both hosts and homes should be more rigorous. They also felt that visits by the Council should be more regular (sometimes these only occurred towards the end or even after, the 6-month period). In defence of the H4U scheme, however, it seems important to stress that in those early days everyone was on an exceptionally steep learning curve and in a huge hurry to provide any shelter for the incoming families. This seemed more important than anything else.


The final section of our discussion with the participants was around the H4U scheme and whether there were lessons to be drawn from the experience for future refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons. We also asked our British hosts whether they would host again, knowing what they now know.

H4: It was a steep learning curve. I don’t know. Probably not. It impacted on family and on me. Nobody goes into it for the money. We didn’t see the cost-of-living crisis. We DID end up out of pocket. There were things that were more than wear and tear; they were damaged through misuse.

We didn’t have any link with the Council which did their 6-month visit very casually after 7 months had elapsed. We would have appreciated more visits. We saw them 3 times in all. They asked the same questions each time. The Job Centre knew diddly squat about anything. Everyone was playing catch up and we were the guinea pigs. No one knew how to get the 200 pounds cash gift and shops weren’t geared up to it. They made us feel like criminals asking for cash! Biggest bugbear was with shopping and the food bank which people wanted to use because ‘we are entitled’. I had to tell our guests that they were NOT entitled.

Nothing in the scheme is means tested or filtered and it should be. Many people are working online in Ukraine and not declaring it. This is not fair. The Syrians and Afghans don’t have these options in my view.

G1: In my opinion this is one of the most successful programmes for refugees that exists in Europe.Very grateful to GB government for everything they prepared for us and still do. Free medicine is amazing. Never had such a thing in Ukraine!

I like everything. Everything is enough for me.

But what it brought me along with the pain and frustration with the war, it gave me an extraordinary experience a very interesting experience and for that I am grateful.

The situation with corruption is complicated. The attitude of Ukrainians towards each other. I can feel it even here. You understand that sometimes I receive more warmth of love and acceptance from the British than I receive such feelings from our Ukrainians here.

One of the unexplored questions is whether anyone consulted with the Ukrainians on how they wished to be treated? To what extent did they wish to be part of a Ukrainian community, or did they wish to integrate with the British community? These are perhaps questions for the extended Listening Project but they are also highly relevant for other migrant communities. How much agency and self-determination do they actually possess and want?


The perceived success of the H4U scheme led us to reflect on how this programme sits with other settlement programmes and how we might better support other migrant groups arriving into the UK.

At the time of writing, a large number of Afghan families are being settled in the area. Obviously, their culture, family hierarchies, religion, cuisine and facility with the English language provide different challenges to the Ukrainian experience. Nevertheless, we anticipate there will be a huge need for support by the community to help them integrate and become independent in just the same way that Ukrainian families have been supported.

H5: We are doing for them what we should have done or be doing for others even if this is less straightforward because of ethnic, cultural and religious differences.

Resettlement programmes vary considerably in terms of government policy and provision and this is different again to the official approach towards refugees and asylum seekers. One of the key issues for young men accommodated in hotels and other centres, for example, is that they only receive a small weekly allowance and do not have the right to work. It is hoped that the success of the schemes for Ukrainians, demonstrates that being able to work immediately is both life-changing for the individual and a mechanism to accelerate integration and independence.


During 2023, there was considerable ebb and flow with families moving into their own accommodation as well as making regular visits back to Ukraine. Some families have returned permanently to Ukraine for work and education. Others though are bringing the rest of their family over to settle. As the 2023 winter and 2024 summer offensives hit the infrastructure once more and cities like Kharkiv, Kherson and Dnipro are pounded daily, we are still receiving applications for new hosts.

We now have a vibrant, cohesive and very proactive Ukrainian community in and around Salisbury with members contributing to life in the community, sharing their knowledge and experiences, hosting others who are newly arrived and joining in social groups.

In October 2023, the British Hub closed its physical presence at the Salisbury Methodist Church and the Ukrainians moved to St Martin’s Church Parish Rooms in Salisbury where they are planning a number of new initiatives such as Ukrainian Saturday school for the children, dance classes and joint events in the community, including participation in the Chalke History Festival. We continue to work together and feel privileged to be learning from their example.


We conclude this pilot project with a celebration of some of the high points of the scheme to host Ukrainians in the community.

August 24, 2022 – Ukrainian Independence Day

A turning point came for all of us on August 24th, 2022, which is Ukrainian Day of Independence. After several days of intensive pastry rolling and baking, the British community was treated to an extraordinary evening of film, history, music and cuisine all provided by the Ukrainian community.

This was the first event which the Ukrainians organised and hosted for the enjoyment and edification of the British community. In doing so, the Ukrainians felt suddenly empowered, realising that they had met the British community on an equal footing for the first time since they arrived.

G1: It was the first such serious meeting, where the British did not come to help the Ukrainians, but where the Ukrainians organised an event for the British.

This was a significant moment for the whole community when the hosts and the community organisations understood more clearly where the Ukrainians had come from and how strong and resilient they are as a nation. They met their British counterparts as equals and not in a position of dependency or disadvantage.

February 24, 2023 – Standing with Giants

To mark the first anniversary of the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Salisbury was fortunate to be able to host a remarkable installation from Oxford, called Standing with Giants. This stood in the Market Place for a month and was visited, vandalised and celebrated by many residents and visitors to the city. The vandalism, though deeply shocking, certainly drew attention to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Fund raising events

Following the success of this initiative, the Ukrainians and British communities held a number of events in public spaces during 2023, raising over 10,000 pounds for hospitals and civilians in Ukraine.

Meeting on Salisbury Plain

More quietly, discreet visits to Salisbury Plain to share vareniki and bortsch with Ukrainian soldiers were arranged by British officers to the great delight of the Ukrainian mothers and children.

As the war continues and the Ukrainian community in Salisbury becomes more and more determined to overcome the threat to their livelihoods, culture and language, more activities and events are planned for 2024.

With thanks to Polina Kudrinova, for all of her beautiful and evocative illustrations


MUSE SW CIC is a not for profit, community interest company based in Salisbury but working with other grass roots organisations elsewhere in the UK and in Moldova. It was established in 2020 with the specific purpose of developing projects and activities that specifically benefit the community and alleviate the poverty and isolation of underprivileged communities. Since April 2022, it has worked with the Community Hub for Ukraine to support hosts and Ukrainian families and in Moldova to support Ukrainian refugees and Moldovan host families.

The Team

Jane Ebel, Sue Kent (listening to the British hosts)

Valeriy Melnik, Nataliya Rumyantseva (listening to the Ukrainian families)

Transcribers (from Ukrainian audio into Ukrainian text and then into English)

Polina Kudrinova, Alla Yeritspokhova (translation into Ukrainian and proof-reading)

With thanks to

Sara Nathan: CEO of Refugees at Home for her wealth of experience, advice and ongoing support

Jill Tomalin: for significant contributions as Hub team member and long-term host

The Salisbury Community Hub Team: for their generous commitment and compassion

Wiltshire Council: for an Area Board Grant for this pilot project

Wiltshire Community Foundation: for support with furniture grants for Ukrainians moving into their own accommodation

Greenwich University: for ongoing support, expertise and funding for this pilot project and our music and drama projects.

We have been incredibly fortunate to have the unconditional support of the Salisbury Methodist Church from the very beginning. We are also grateful for the support of the previous Mayors of Salisbury, Tom Corbin and Atiqul Hoque, for helping to bring our communities together, to Salisbury City Council for supporting the Standing with Giants Installation in the Market Square on the first anniversary of the conflict and for providing space for two fundraising stalls in March and April 2023. We also thank the Lord Lieutenant, Sarah Troughton, for supporting our ongoing commitment to include other migrant communities in South Wiltshire and to our Member of Parliament, John Glen for his sustained support for Ukraine and for the Salisbury Community Hub for Ukraine.

We would like to thank above all, the Hosts in Salisbury and surrounding areas for their unfailing generosity and kindness as well as their remarkable honesty about their experiences of hosting.

We would like to thank the Ukrainian families who have come to live in our midst and who are now an integral part of our community, commercial and cultural life. They too have been open and generous with their time and their views.


This is a pilot project of 6 Ukrainian families and 6 British families. We know there are more voices to be heard and we are applying for more funding to expand our creative and therapeutic work, while collaborating with other Ukrainian groups in the UK.

We have had our fair share of tensions and we have had to relocate several families; but overall, the experience has been a positive one which reflects well on both the hosts and their guests. That the Ukrainian group has now established their own community interest company, Ukrainian Community United CIC, is testament to this.