From Ukraine to Wadebridge

A trip to the beach

Carol Matta, Vice-President of Betjeman Belles WI, and her partner Jonathan, have taken into their home a woman and son from Ukraine. We asked Carol to share her story with us, which she was glad to do. Following is the second and final part of Carol’s piece. If you missed Part I, you can read it here.

Part 2 – Settling In

As a host or sponsor, the only real requirement is to provide a safe home for an individual or family. There is no expectation, for example, to provide meals or to do washing, etc., although you are required to provide access to cooking facilities and, of course, access to a bathroom. Also, there is no obligation for the hosts to help the families with settling into the UK.

On arrival at Bristol airport, we were all provided with some details about what to do next in the form of a very useful information sheet from the Red Cross – available in both Ukrainian and English. This outlined steps to access money, benefits, general advice, how to get work, registering with a GP, etc. Over the next few weeks, we worked our way through the system, supporting our guests as much as possible. Completion of the Universal Credit application wasn’t too bad – but I have to confess I thought this would automatically generate child benefit and a NI number. How wrong I was! There was additional form filling for this and for a free school meal application. On arrival, we applied for both the guests’ emergency payments and for the host’s payment (payable for the first six months). We also purchased a new UK SIM card, so they could reach people at home.

A Ukrainian feast

Our adult guest was keen to find work and keen to make a contribution to our household – so she has cooked us some interesting typical Ukrainian food including potato dumplings, pancakes and new salads. For work, she asked some other Ukrainian women who had arrived earlier and they suggested a cleaning job in a local hotel. This she found extremely hard, compounded by unsupportive work colleagues. However, a chance conversation with one of my neighbours who owns and runs a local restaurant, has now provided a 16-hour a week work contract within five weeks of arrival in the country. My adult guest has also decided to dedicate much of her time to learning English – both in a classroom and online. She has linked up with Adult Education for an additional class based on her current level of English. She has also looked for other ways to practice her English and now has two volunteer roles. Her view is that being more proficient in English will open up better work opportunities. She has also booked onto a six-week course for Ukraine people to help with job opportunities. She has a law degree from Ukraine.

In terms of becoming part of the community, she and her son have attended the local church and participated in some Wadebridge community Jubilee events including the Big Lunch, where they provided Ukrainian food. The Wadebridge Supports Ukrainian Facebook group now has a charity aspect to it and, as you do, when no one else stepped up to be a Trustee, I put my hand up.

So far, this charity has received donations from kind people and businesses and from fundraising activities. I sold some Ukrainian ribbon pin badges over the Jubilee weekend, for example, many to fellow WI members. To date, the Charity has paid for some school uniforms, swimming shorts and some tickets for local Ukraine people to attend the Royal Cornwall Show, held on our doorstep.

Helping at the Jubilee weekend festivities

It has been a little bit difficult to get the 12-year-old boy out of our house. He was reluctant, for example to visit the beach. But on arrival, he immediately took off his shoes and socks and it wasn’t long before he was in the sea. Now he is always asking, “When do we go again?” He was also reluctant to go to school – so all three of us had an initial visit. The local secondary school has been able to employee a Ukrainian teacher – herself a refugee – and already had three other Ukrainian pupils. So the welcome visit was mainly held in Ukrainian, with the Deputy Head and myself sitting somewhat bemused in the room listening to very articulate conversation. The school has a therapy dog and has set up a Ukrainian tutor group, where all the Ukrainian children start their day. There is an expectation to learn English, Maths, Science and PE, but they can access other lessons with their year group as able. The boy decided to start school the following day and is enjoying it. He has a buddy who also speaks Polish which our boy speaks. He is gradually making friends at school and in the community. This includes other Ukrainian children. He has a place in the Scouts – starting in September – after telling me he wanted to camp out in the woods on his own!

Our guests and other Ukraine families want to organise a few things themselves, via a WhatsApp group they’ve set up. This includes an art group and some other events, e.g., a celebration for Ukraine Independence Day on 24 August – so the Wadebridge Supports Ukraine Facebook group are looking at ways to facilitate or support these ideas. The children get together from time to time, including to watch the Ukraine vs Wales football match at another host’s home. Our two guests helped at the Betjeman Belles WI fundraising event over the Jubilee weekend. The boy particularly enjoyed working our tombola drum and handing out prizes. His mother may come along to our WI, but this depends on her work commitments. I will continue to post messages to Facebook letting women know that our WI welcomes Ukraine visitors to come alone and try out a meeting.

Watching the Ukraine vs Wales football match

Things, of course, have not all been rosy. There have been tears, especially about who and what has been left behind – parents (who are still in the Donbas and who won’t leave), a brother serving in the territorial defence, a nice flat and possessions in central Ukraine and two cats – very much missed. Also, the family is still grieving for a husband and father who died in an accident in 2021. It’s also been an adjustment for us all, living under the same roof and sharing spaces. We’ve had a few difficult conversations in relation to setting up some childcare especially in the school holidays – there is no similar set up in Ukraine, with some children being left home alone. Also, we’ve had some conversations regarding Covid vaccinations, which they are reluctant to have. We now have a support group for hosts, led by a counsellor, which is useful.

Overall, it has been so far a positive experience. I have learnt a lot, including how to be more patient, as well as a tiny bit of Ukrainian! I’ve also learnt much about Ukraine culture, and Jon is also playing chess again. We also had to learn to accept a lot of thanks from our guests with graciousness. We have met other hosts in our community which have developed into friendships for us. I didn’t previously know the three other Trustees of the Charity (who are all men – though I’ve tried to get another woman!), but I am learning lots from them. One is an accountant, one a lawyer – and President of the local Rotary and one is a retired social worker. We share our skills and experiences, and are working on getting a Ukraine representative onto the Charity. I am very thankful to some of my WI members who have not only been there to listen to me when I have experienced difficult issues, but who have also been generous with ideas and donations – monetary and otherwise – board games and Lego, for example.

Let’s see how the next few months will go.

Can You Help?

Obviously, the situation continues to evolve in Ukraine and people from Ukraine are still seeking accommodation in the UK. If you are interested in doing this, register on Homes for Ukraine and record your interest, or contact – both these organisations are now more organised than when I first started.

If you decide to try to get a match yourselves, I would recommend Sunflower Sisters – they only link up Ukraine people in the UK where there is a female in the household, and there is also a Cornwall Coordinator who can help.

You can also try AID Ukraine UK – they are matching hosts and guests using English and Ukraine- or Russian-speaking volunteers.

Other ways of helping are to support charities who are helping in the Ukraine and in the UK such as the British Red CrossSave the Children Fund or the Disasters Emergency Committee; and you can join/follow the Wadebridge Supports Ukraine organisation on Facebook.

If you want to donate to the Wadebridge Supports Ukraine Charity you can send an email to If you can help the Ukrainian Women in Wadebridge set up the things they want to do, please email me

Also, think of ways your WI could get involved. There are probably local groups like Wadebridge Supports Ukrainians in your area. Could you befriend a newly arrived woman from Ukraine? Those where their sponsor does not live with them; e.g., those in private rental homes or previously rented holiday homes, could particularly need your help.

Continue to raise awareness of the WI campaign to Stop Modern Slavery – we know that modern slavery increases in war torn areas, and especially with the migration of women, men and children. Your WI has a pack of ideas and there will be information on MyWI.


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