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Tunbridge Wells based charity helps make a hub for Ukraine refugees as they enter sponsored housing in the UK


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With the conflict still raging in Ukraine, citizens are making their way to Kent with next to no belongings and seeking refuge from their war-torn cities.

One charity is doing everything they can to help those both entering the UK, and staying in their home country.

Richard Akehurst set up the Ukraine Relief Group two days after the war broke out
Richard Akehurst set up the Ukraine Relief Group two days after the war broke out

The Ukraine Relief Group (URG) is a humanitarian charity set up to help those suffering from the current conflict, taking aid to Ukraine, and supporting those arriving in the Tunbridge Wells borough with essential supplies.

Based in the borough council’s TN2 Community Centre, it is able to focus on both sides of their work, in the UK and Ukraine.

CEO of URG, Richard Akehurst started the group two days after the conflict started.

He said: "My background is in humanitarian work so having seen things in my careers I knew this was going to be something important to do.

"We started off very small, sending little amounts of aid to Ukraine but then we quite clearly saw the war was going to grow exponentially fast, and we saw what was going on, it pushed for our group to get bigger."

Guests can now come to TN2 and look through the donations and take away what is needed for them. It’s also a great place for hosts from across the borough to meet, socialise and share ideas.

Piles of donations have to be ought through at the TN2 Community Centre
Piles of donations have to be ought through at the TN2 Community Centre
Clothes for all ages are left to be taken freely by those who need them
Clothes for all ages are left to be taken freely by those who need them
Boxes of food and medical supplies are ready to be shipped
Boxes of food and medical supplies are ready to be shipped

As families look through the donations, children can play in a dedicated space. Networks are forming and friendships built as Ukrainian guests meet others who are in a similar situation.

Thousands of Ukrainians are hoping to get sanctuary in the UK applying for visas through the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Tetiana Ivzhenko got her visa two weeks after applying, having left her home on the first day of the conflict.

She said: "We came in March to a family in Kent. They have allowed us in and have been very kind and helpful.

"I lived 20km from the border and on the first day of the war my husband gave me permission to leave the country.

Teitana Ivzmenko left Ukraine within the first day of fighting
Teitana Ivzmenko left Ukraine within the first day of fighting

"The journey was stressful, we went from Ukraine to Poland and we stayed there until we had the documents to come to the UK.

"The visas arrived after two weeks and by that time we made the decision to go to the UK."

For Tetiana the wait for a visa was not too long, but not everyone has been so fortunate.

Ludmila Dyhna applied for her visa through the family scheme as her daughter Xeniya has lived in the UK for 17 years.

It took Ludmila 22 days to travel to the UK.

Ludmila Dyhua, was able to gain a visa through the family scheme after 22 days
Ludmila Dyhua, was able to gain a visa through the family scheme after 22 days

Ludmila said: "The journey was very stressful and painful and we didn't know how it would be here. I had to leave my country and my house.

"I am just very thankful to Richard, to English people and anyone who is helping; this is a big problem for the whole world."

The Home for Ukraine scheme has run into a lot of criticism recently with the length of time it takes the process.

According to the most recent statistics, six out of seven sponsors are currently unmatched. More than 6,500 applicants have shown interest to be a sponsor, 1,104 of which have been allocated an appropriate match.

Leader of the Kent County Council, Roger Gough, said: "Clearly many people who have expressed an interest are not being matched but I feel that process is accelerating.

Leader of KCC, Roger Gough
Leader of KCC, Roger Gough

"It is not something our councils have a role in though that might change."

For now, those that have arrived have places to commune, collect food and clothes and relax from the struggles of war.

Xeniya, who is a member of the Ukrainian Relief Group said: "This group is very helpful to people who have arrived in the UK.

"To come and get support straight away, to meet other Ukrainian people and to find a family here. We just try to support people as much as we can."

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