Uprooted by war, some Ukrainians in the UK now face homelessness alone

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CNN spoke to half a dozen newly-arrived refugees from Ukraine who have become homeless in the UK after their relationships with British hosts deteriorated, leaving them confused and isolated — and facing a daunting amount of red tape.

The scale of the problem is not yet clear. The UK government says 77,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK since the war started, through two different programs: the Ukraine Family Scheme, where Ukrainians can be hosted by relatives in the UK; and the Homes for Ukraine scheme, where Ukrainians find a local “sponsor” through friends, charities or even social media, and jointly apply for a visa. According to the UK government, “the overwhelming majority… are settling in well.”

However, new preliminary data collected by the UK government shows 660 Ukrainian households sought homelessness assistance from local authorities between February 24 and June 3. And that data does not tell the whole story. Social media groups for Ukrainian communities in London are awash with messages from people falling out with their UK hosts.

Almost a quarter of local authorities have yet to provide any data, and CNN has spoken to several refugees made homeless in those areas. Two striking accounts by unrelated women reveal significant gaps in the schemes designed to help them.

‘Good luck’ note

Natalia Arnautova, 28, from Odessa arrived alone in Reading, about 50 miles from London, in April. She was met at the airport by a couple in their fifties, whom she had contacted through a matching website, and who were sponsoring her visa under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. After a month of living together, the couple decided the arrangement was no longer working and asked her to leave. She says she was offered only one option by the local authority: A homeless hostel.

“The people who developed this program didn’t think through what happens in those cases when people don’t get on for some reason. And there are many reasons for things to go wrong,” she told CNN in a phone interview.

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Arnautova accepts there were personality differences with her hosts, but says she was not expecting to have to move out. A translator working for the local council called her to break the news, Arnautova recalled.

“She said: ‘You have nowhere to live, they are evicting you tonight,'” she recalled. “I stood in shock, crying.” Arnautova said she tried to convince the council to give her a room in a hotel, but they wouldn’t. She turned down the hostel option because she didn’t feel safe.

She happened to be at a meet-up for Ukrainians in Reading, and was approached by one of the organizers, who, since it was a Friday evening, agreed to put her up for a few nights.

“I got back to an empty house and started packing,” she said. “They left me a note in my room, wishing me luck. No one saw me off, or asked me where I was going.”

Arnautova said the council made little effort after that: “Their day finished at 5 p.m. on a Friday. Two weeks later the council called to ask me where I was.” Wokingham Borough Council told CNN it doesn’t comment on specific cases.

Arnautova’s host, who asked to be named only as Adrian, told CNN there were some “minor issues in the property itself” that led to the breakdown in the relationship and that he wasn’t aware she was offered a homeless hostel. He thought she would be rematched with another host, he said.

“We sorted out all the documentation, doctors, National Insurance, residence permit interviews … It was a lot of work, so I was personally disappointed it didn’t work out,” he said. “I remember seeing the scenes on television and thinking we had to do something. We have a large home, a room available, so why not?”

Adrian added that he thought Arnautova’s “heart wasn’t in it” with regards to living in Reading, and that she wanted to be in London.

Ukrainians and other demonstrators gather at London's Trafalgar Square for a protest in support of Ukraine on March 1, 2022.

‘Lifeline’ offered

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 sent shockwaves around the world. In response to a public outcry, the UK government launched the Homes for Ukraine scheme on March 14. A day later, 100,000 people had signed up to host. It was the start of one of the biggest refugee assistance schemes in British history.
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UK Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said at the time that the scheme “offers a lifeline to those who have been forced to flee.”

The idea of a hosting scheme was, on the face of it, a good one, according to Sara Nathan, co-founder of the charity Refugees at Home, which has been matching refugees with hosts for the past seven years.

“I think our first reaction was, well thank goodness, it’s been appreciated that hosting people is a way forward,” she told CNN. “It’s a good way of integrating new arrivals, traumatized new arrivals.”

However, one key problem is rematching when placements break down, Nathan said.

The UK government says councils do now have access to a rematching system, which they should use only when a hosting relationship is deemed unsafe or unreliable.

But several charities told CNN that this facility came late, and remains inconsistent and difficult to access. Government data shows more than half of the Ukrainian households that have sought homelessness assistance are now in temporary accommodation.

‘One trivial thing’

When CNN first contacted Natalia Lymar, just days after she was asked to leave by her British hosts, she was unable to finish a sentence without tears. Originally from Bucha, the 49-year-old had survived days of bombardment, and a terrifying close encounter with a group of armed Russian soldiers in her home. This, she said, was worse.

“It upset me so much that I felt that I was going through more stress right now, when I understood I had to pack my bags, than I did in my basement in Bucha,” she told us two weeks later. “I felt like a stray kitten up for adoption.”

A man pushes his bike through debris and destroyed Russian military vehicles on a street on April 6, 2022 in Bucha, Ukraine.

Lymar says she still doesn’t fully understand what went wrong with her first hosts.

“There was one trivial thing, and I didn’t even know what they weren’t happy with, then another, and even if they said something, it was with such a smile that I thought everything was okay,” she explained.

“People are not necessarily compatible,” Nathan said. “It doesn’t mean they’ve done anything awful and it doesn’t mean you are wicked. You may just not get on for six months, which is a long time.”

CNN was unable to reach Lymar’s sponsors to comment on this story, but a friend of hers, who had originally helped her match with them, confirmed she was asked to leave. Lymar and her friend tried to seek council assistance, but didn’t go through with the homelessness application because they couldn’t manage the paperwork.

Nathan says the government should have planned ahead for this kind of scenario. “On any exercise of this scale, there are going to be failures. There are going to be placements that don’t work. And there isn’t a coherent rematching scheme, which we would like to see.”

‘Cliff-edge’ looming

Charities warn that too much responsibility falls on local authorities. While still busy with safeguarding checks for placing new arrivals, local councils are also having to help when placements fall through, without much guidance from the central government.

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CNN.isLoggedInVideoCheck(autoStartVideo) : autoStartVideo;if (autoStartVideo === true) {if (turnOnFlashMessaging === true) {autoStartVideo = false;containerEl = jQuery(document.getElementById(configObj.markupId));CNN.VideoPlayer.showFlashSlate(containerEl);} else {CNN.autoPlayVideoExist = true;}}}configObj.autostart = CNN.Features.enableAutoplayBlock ? false : autoStartVideo;CNN.VideoPlayer.setPlayerProperties(configObj.markupId, autoStartVideo, isLivePlayer, isVideoReplayClicked, mutePlayerEnabled);CNN.VideoPlayer.setFirstVideoInCollection(currentVideoCollection, configObj.markupId);videoEndSlateImpl = new CNN.VideoEndSlate(‘body-text_48’);function findNextVideo(currentVideoId) {var i,vidObj;if (currentVideoId && jQuery.isArray(currentVideoCollection) && currentVideoCollection.length > 0) {for (i = 0; i 0) {videoEndSlateImpl.showEndSlateForContainer();if (mobilePinnedView) {mobilePinnedView.disable();}}}}callbackObj = {onPlayerReady: function (containerId) {var playerInstance,containerClassId = ‘#’ + containerId;CNN.VideoPlayer.handleInitialExpandableVideoState(containerId);if (CNN.Features.enableVideoObserver && Modernizr && Modernizr.phone) {CNN.VideoPlayer.observeVideoPlayer(containerId);}CNN.VideoPlayer.handleAdOnCVPVisibilityChange(containerId, CNN.pageVis.isDocumentVisible());if (CNN.Features.enableMobileWebFloatingPlayer &&Modernizr &&(Modernizr.phone || Modernizr.mobile || Modernizr.tablet) &&CNN.VideoPlayer.getLibraryName(containerId) === ‘fave’ &&jQuery(containerClassId).parents(‘.js-pg-rail-tall__head’).length > 0 &&CNN.contentModel.pageType === ‘article’) {playerInstance = FAVE.player.getInstance(containerId);mobilePinnedView = new CNN.MobilePinnedView({element: jQuery(containerClassId),enabled: false,transition: CNN.MobileWebFloatingPlayer.transition,onPin: function () {playerInstance.hideUI();},onUnpin: function () {playerInstance.showUI();},onPlayerClick: function () {if (mobilePinnedView) {playerInstance.enterFullscreen();playerInstance.showUI();}},onDismiss: function() {CNN.Videx.mobile.pinnedPlayer.disable();playerInstance.pause();}});/* Storing pinned view on CNN.Videx.mobile.pinnedPlayer So that all players can see the single pinned player */CNN.Videx = CNN.Videx || {};CNN.Videx.mobile = CNN.Videx.mobile || {};CNN.Videx.mobile.pinnedPlayer = mobilePinnedView;}if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (jQuery(containerClassId).parents(‘.js-pg-rail-tall__head’).length) {videoPinner = new CNN.VideoPinner(containerClassId);videoPinner.init();} else {CNN.VideoPlayer.hideThumbnail(containerId);}}},onContentEntryLoad: function(containerId, playerId, contentid, isQueue) {CNN.VideoPlayer.showSpinner(containerId);},onContentPause: function (containerId, playerId, videoId, paused) {if (mobilePinnedView) {CNN.VideoPlayer.handleMobilePinnedPlayerStates(containerId, paused);}},onContentMetadata: function (containerId, playerId, metadata, contentId, duration, width, height) {var endSlateLen = jQuery(document.getElementById(containerId)).parent().find(‘.js-video__end-slate’).eq(0).length;CNN.VideoSourceUtils.updateSource(containerId, metadata);if (endSlateLen > 0) {videoEndSlateImpl.fetchAndShowRecommendedVideos(metadata);}},onAdPlay: function (containerId, cvpId, token, mode, id, duration, blockId, adType) {/* Dismissing the pinnedPlayer if another video players plays an Ad */CNN.VideoPlayer.dismissMobilePinnedPlayer(containerId);clearTimeout(moveToNextTimeout);CNN.VideoPlayer.hideSpinner(containerId);if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (typeof videoPinner !== ‘undefined’ && videoPinner !== null) {videoPinner.setIsPlaying(true);videoPinner.animateDown();}}},onAdPause: function (containerId, playerId, token, mode, id, duration, blockId, adType, instance, isAdPause) {if (mobilePinnedView) {CNN.VideoPlayer.handleMobilePinnedPlayerStates(containerId, isAdPause);}},onTrackingFullscreen: function (containerId, PlayerId, dataObj) {CNN.VideoPlayer.handleFullscreenChange(containerId, dataObj);if (mobilePinnedView &&typeof dataObj === ‘object’ &&FAVE.Utils.os === ‘iOS’ && !dataObj.fullscreen) {jQuery(document).scrollTop(mobilePinnedView.getScrollPosition());playerInstance.hideUI();}},onContentPlay: function (containerId, cvpId, event) {var playerInstance,prevVideoId;if (CNN.companion && typeof CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout === ‘function’) {CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout(‘restoreEpicAds’);}clearTimeout(moveToNextTimeout);CNN.VideoPlayer.hideSpinner(containerId);if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (typeof videoPinner !== ‘undefined’ && videoPinner !== null) {videoPinner.setIsPlaying(true);videoPinner.animateDown();}}},onContentReplayRequest: function (containerId, cvpId, contentId) {if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (typeof videoPinner !== ‘undefined’ && videoPinner !== null) {videoPinner.setIsPlaying(true);var $endSlate = jQuery(document.getElementById(containerId)).parent().find(‘.js-video__end-slate’).eq(0);if ($endSlate.length > 0) {$endSlate.removeClass(‘video__end-slate–active’).addClass(‘video__end-slate–inactive’);}}}},onContentBegin: function (containerId, cvpId, contentId) {if (mobilePinnedView) {mobilePinnedView.enable();}/* Dismissing the pinnedPlayer if another video players plays a video. */CNN.VideoPlayer.dismissMobilePinnedPlayer(containerId);CNN.VideoPlayer.mutePlayer(containerId);if (CNN.companion && typeof CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout === ‘function’) {CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout(‘removeEpicAds’);}CNN.VideoPlayer.hideSpinner(containerId);clearTimeout(moveToNextTimeout);CNN.VideoSourceUtils.clearSource(containerId);jQuery(document).triggerVideoContentStarted();},onContentComplete: function (containerId, cvpId, contentId) {if (CNN.companion && typeof CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout === ‘function’) {CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout(‘restoreFreewheel’);}navigateToNextVideo(contentId, containerId);},onContentEnd: function (containerId, cvpId, contentId) {if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (typeof videoPinner !== ‘undefined’ && videoPinner !== null) {videoPinner.setIsPlaying(false);}}},onCVPVisibilityChange: function (containerId, cvpId, visible) {CNN.VideoPlayer.handleAdOnCVPVisibilityChange(containerId, visible);}};if (typeof configObj.context !== ‘string’ || configObj.context.length 0) {configObj.adsection = window.ssid;}CNN.autoPlayVideoExist = (CNN.autoPlayVideoExist === true) ? true : false;CNN.VideoPlayer.getLibrary(configObj, callbackObj, isLivePlayer);});CNN.INJECTOR.scriptComplete(‘videodemanddust’);

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