Diocese of Portsmouth

    Vicar hosts Ukrainian refugees as our diocese relaunches appeal

    21 Feb. 2023

    HAYLING Island vicar Jenny Gaffin comes from a family that knows what it’s like to be refugees – so she was happy to welcome two Ukrainian families to share her vicarage.

    Her grandparents fled from Hungary after the Second World War and settled in the UK. So she has a particular heart for supporting Ukrainians as they flee the conflict. She’s just one of the many kind worshippers who have thrown open their homes to Ukrainians who have left their homes, families and possessions behind.

    And as the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches, the Diocese of Portsmouth is relaunching its appeal to find hosts for Ukrainian refugees. The diocese has already found new homes for 51 Ukrainians in the past year. We’re now looking for 50 more host families by Easter, so we can offer places to another 100 refugees.

    The Rev Jenny Gaffin has welcomed Kateryna Hluhan and her daughter Nelya, aged 7, as well as Anna Borodulina, and her five-year-old son Leonid. Having lived alone, the influx of four new faces has made vicarage life feel very different. They arrived in late December, so they’ve already experienced the difference between English and Ukrainian customs over Christmas and New Year. The children have also had to settle into new schools.

    Anna, who comes from Kharkiv, said: “When the bombing started, we stayed in our house for 11 days and didn’t leave. When a shell landed near our house, Leonid became very frightened. We thought the next time, the shell would hit our house and we’d die.

    “I didn’t sleep much the night before we left. It was scary in our house, but it felt even scarier to leave, because I thought the road would be dangerous. I could only take one backpack, so I put all the important documents in there, and a neighbour took us to Dnipropetrovsk.

    “I have left my mother and father, my sister and her husband and children in Kharkiv. They didn’t want to leave their homes and travel, but they have no light, no water. They are coping only because they have got used to the war. It is insanely hard, and we want to return to Ukraine.”

    Anna left her home in March 2022 and spent 10 months in a hotel in Bulgaria before being matched with Jenny as part of our diocesan scheme. During that time, she met Kateryna and Nelya, who had left Odessa in March too. They decided to join forces.

    “We had no light, no water and no heat for two months in Odessa,” said Kateryna. “The windows were rattling with the rockets being fired on the city, and there were cars and sirens screaming. There were times when rockets hit kindergartens and schools, and every time you were worried that it was the school where your child was.

    “Every day was very tense for us. In the first few weeks of the war, we wouldn’t take our phones out of our hands, because we’d be phoning all our friends and relatives to see how they are. My stepfather is in the army, but we don’t know where he is serving.

    “Hayling Island is beautiful, and people have been very welcoming. There has been no problem with school, although in Ukraine you don’t start school until you are six.

    The children are learning English very well. There are also a few Ukrainians living in Hayling Island, so we’ve met others. We are very grateful to Jenny, who has been very kind to us, and introduced us to different customs at Christmas. So many people bought us Christmas presents – I have never seen so many around a tree!”

    Anna (foreground), Kateryna and their children with the Rev Jenny Gaffin on Hayling beach

    Both mums are keen to find work, as well as learning the language. Anna has continued to teach online, but Kateryna’s job in Ukraine was with a grocery business which she can’t do from the UK.

    Jenny offered to host refugees for six months through our diocesan scheme, which has already found hosts for more than 50 Ukrainians coming to the UK as part of the government’s Homes for Ukraine programme. She said: “Because my grandparents were refugees, I was quite motivated to help. My family was welcomed, and we’ve settled here and have thrived.

    “The Christmas story tells us that Mary and Joseph were first of all welcomed by the innkeeper, and then they welcomed the shepherds and kings. They were guests who became hosts. And there’s something of that in this situation. Anna and Katya are my guests, but they are also hosts: they share their traditions with me and my friends, they cook their amazing food, help with the housework and they welcome others here, as hospitality is built into their culture.

    “I have been living on my own, so things are very different at the moment. But we’re getting to the point where I can be honest if the children are being too noisy for me to concentrate. I know I’ll benefit from them being here.”

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