The Dunholme Resident Opening Her Home and Heart to Two Ukrainian Refugees

Helen Barton, a solicitor who lives in Dunholme, has welcomed two 18-year-old students into her home for the foreseeable in response to the conflict in Ukraine.

The topic of helping rehome refugees has been something that Helen had previously discussed with her sister, and she decided when an opportunity arose that she could help she would. “When the conflict kicked off in Ukraine and I saw it on television it was just heartbreaking, and I thought there just has to be something we can do.” Helen recalls. “As soon as I saw the government launch the scheme, I registered with it.”

Helen had to go online and register under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and a week later she received her email acknowledging that she had successfully registered. After this initial contact, she was unfortunately left in the dark as to how to go forward with the process, so she made her way online. “There are Ukrainian groups on Facebook,” Helen explains, “so I just worked the whole thing through social media by asking questions, reading information and also through the website of a charity called Opora.”

There are individuals, friends and families on these groups that are looking for safe homes to take refuge, and Helen contacted a few people to no avail until she stumbled upon an 18-year-old student who, along with her best friend, was looking for a sponsor. “I thought that we would be a good fit taking into account my lifestyle and my work, and the fact that they’ve got each other so they wouldn’t be on their own.” says Helen.

“We got messaging and they said that they would like to accept my invitation, so we had a video chat in which they were of course incredibly shy, but they were so appreciative and so I began the visa process.” Helen completed the visa process on their behalf, but with the process being complicated and having to repeatedly ask for relevant information from the girls, it took around 3 days to complete the process. The visas thankfully got approved within a week, and so Helen started to figure out how to get the girls to the UK.

There has been various help provided since the war began to enable refugees to travel for free, but unfortunately with the scale of the problem the resources are starting to run out. “Initially the Opora charity could help with flights and travels but by the time we got to do ours they suspended help because of the demand. There were also free flights from Poland offered but they were also suspended, so the last option was free train travel through Europe and the UK. We worked out that was going to take them 3 days, and there was not a chance I was going to let them travel for 3 days,” Helen explains, “My last resort was to pay for the flights myself, and the girls didn’t really want me to, but I purchased the flights and they managed to fly across on the 16th of May.”

The two girls are university students and will be continuing their studies remotely online. After they have completed this year’s studies, Helen is going to look into what help might be offered from University of Lincoln to further their academic career.

Helen explained she has received various forms of help from the community when they found out that the girls would be staying. She received desks, chairs and a chest of drawers to ensure there was sufficient furniture for them, as well as a bike from a resident in Welton and a bike donated from Barnes Bikes in Dunholme. “My work colleagues also created hampers with toiletries and snacks to make them feel a little more at home when they arrived.”

Before the girls came over, Helen would message them every day to check they were okay. “One of them had fled to Poland pretty much as soon as the war broke out, but the other girl was still in Ukraine, so I did keep in touch and they were so appreciative. The messages I received were so lovely and it assured me I was doing the right thing.”

As a result of Helen’s kindness towards these girls, for the rest of their lives they will be connected through this demonstration of compassion, care and humanity.  “A friend said to me before the girls came, have you considered your mental health? He said these people are going to come with trauma of some kind and you will have to say goodbye to them at some point, have you considered that? And I hadn’t, but hopefully with technology we will always stay in touch.” Helen recalled visiting the International Women’s Day lunch at the showground, and how there was a story of someone’s Grandmother who came over from Odesa as a refugee and how the relationship with the host family developed, and how she herself ended up taking in somebody who was seeking a better life because of the kindness she was shown when she was in need, “It was just amazing.”

Helen isn’t alone in her kindness, and before the girls arrived, she received a message on Facebook from another Dunholme resident who was about to welcome a 20-year-old guest. “I replied saying that I had two 18-year-olds coming and that we would have to meet up! It was comforting knowing that someone else is going through it, and that the girls have someone else they can talk to who understands their situation.”

Sometimes when faced with a crisis such as this, the vast scale of devastation can leave us feeling helpless. Helen is living proof that we can make a difference to others’ lives, whether we do something big or small. “I think we need to look at what we have got and what we can offer,” says Helen, “People often say that they hear the news and cry, but there is something we can do about it! I know not everyone can open their homes, but you can donate money, there are support centres like the one at St Marks; they need aid sending, food, toiletries – you can do something, and it can be small but it is still hugely appreciated. This was something that had really affected me because none of this is their doing, they are just innocent people that have been caught up in it all, and it isn’t like they are requesting to come here, they are just wanting to be safe.”