Aimee Stott has welcomed Olesya and her son into her home

“We’re like sisters now”: one woman on what it’s been like to welcome a Ukrainian family into her home

The Homes for Ukraine scheme has been open for almost two months, but concerns have been raised about how safe and efficient the process really is. Here, one woman who has welcomed a Ukrainian woman and her son into her home tells Stylist about what the last month and a half has been like.

In mid-March, 29-year-old Aimee Stott, who lives with her two sons, aged 7 and 9, in Bridgend, Wales, decided she wanted to provide a home for refugees fleeing Ukraine.

After joining a couple of Facebook groups, she received a message from Olesya – a 34-year-old mother of one – asking if she and her 3-year-old son could come and stay with the family while her husband remained at their home in central Ukraine. The pair hit it off from the start – and decided to apply for the Homes for Ukraine scheme as soon as it opened.

Following weeks of stress, Olesya and her son arrived in the UK on 12 April – and the now family of five are settling into their new lives together. Here, Stott details what the last month and a half have been like – and outlines the special bond the two families now share.  

I can vividly remember watching the news and learning that Russia had invaded Ukraine. I was absolutely horrified to see so much violence, so when I read a little bit about the Homes for Ukraine scheme the government was proposing, I was definitely interested.

However, things progressed further thanks to my eldest son, who was learning a little bit about what was happening in Ukraine at school. When I mentioned the Homes for Ukraine scheme to him, he said, ‘We’ve got a spare room, we should do it.’ So, after talking to the boys’ dad and having a good think about it all, I decided to go for it.  

You may also like

UN warns that the UK must help protect vulnerable female refugees from being matched with lone single men under Homes for Ukraine scheme

To get the ball rolling, I joined lots of refugee groups on Facebook, where refugees and potential sponsors post information about themselves and what they’re looking for or can offer. So, I did a post with a few pictures of my home and a little bit about me and the boys, and I was inundated with people messaging me.

I ‘matched’ with two people who ended up finding situations that were better suited to them, and then I got a message from Olesya. She literally just wrote, ‘Can me and my son come and stay with you?’ and after chatting with her for a bit (using Google Translate, as neither of us could speak the other’s language) and having her tell me about the situation she was facing, I was like, ‘Fuck it, let’s do it.’

Applications for the Homes for Ukraine scheme went live on 18 March, so we filled in her visa application and sent it off. However, we later realised that her son needed his own visa (even though he was listed on Olesya’s) so we had to send off another one on 19 March. 

Frustratingly, there was no way to link the two applications – a problem which means families are having their visas approved at different times and can’t leave until the final one is approved. However, after 25 days of waiting (during which time the pair remained stuck in the middle of an increasingly dangerous situation and we were beginning to lose hope that the applications would be successful) her son’s visa was finally approved, followed by hers the following day.

Once their visas were approved, I called a Polish friend who was able to arrange for them to be picked up at the border. From there, they were able to fly to Bristol airport, where I picked them up. I posted a clip of me greeting them as they came through the gates on my TikTok, and it went viral – I love that video so, so much.  

Before they arrived, however, I got to work making sure the house was ready. I bought two single beds to put in the guest room, asked the local community to donate clothes because I knew Olesya was only able to bring one rucksack (I ended up with 12 bin bags full of clothes and toys) and set to work getting little things ready. 

I really wanted to give her a house key so she felt like it was her home as well, and I picked up two keychains with the Welsh and Ukrainian flags on them, too. 

I also made sure her son had a toy box at the end of his bed – Olesya told me he loves Spider-Man, so a kind lady from the local area went out and bought lots of Spider-Man toys for him to play with.

They arrived in the UK on 12 April, so we’re still settling into a routine. Her son isn’t in nursery school yet because there is a lot of admin to sort out, so I tend to take the boys to school and then come back and help out with things like registering for the doctors or attending Job Centre appointments with Olesya. While communication is still quite hard, her English has come along incredibly quickly and I’ve learned a bit of Ukrainian. Otherwise, it’s lots of hand gestures.  

Overall, they’re settling in really, really well. Our boys get on like a house on fire and they’ve all adapted so well – they’re sharing things and teaching each other their languages. Olesya and I also have similar parenting styles, so that definitely helps.

There have been some emotional moments, too, like when I got the opportunity to speak to her husband and he thanked me for taking his family in. There have also been a few moments where I just have to sort of take myself away and have a good cry, because I’m just so grateful that they’re here and they’re safe after such a long process.

Aimee Stott with the Ukrainian refugees she has welcomed into her home
Aimee with Olesya and her son.

The whole thing has left me feeling quite angry with the UK government, though, because the process has been so soul-destroying for everyone. You’ve got these people that are in an incredibly dangerous situation asking you if you know anything more about their visas, and when you try to get an update it’s like screaming into a void. 

The whole time I was waiting for Olesya’s visa to be approved, I spoke to MPs, the Welsh government and the UK visa helpline, but I received little help. There was no way to track the applications, and I felt like I was left completely in the dark. 

While I’d encourage others to get involved in the scheme, I also think people should be prepared. You’ll need to make sure you’re financially stable because I’ve found the government support and benefits process to be slow, so you’re probably going to have to provide for whoever is staying with you for a few weeks. I would also make sure that your home has plenty of room to give both you and the person you’re hosting adequate space to spend time apart and decompress.

You may also like

Ukraine: women fleeing the war are using TikTok to document the process of leaving the country

For now, I’m just making sure we get everything we need to do done while also giving Olesya and her son time to rest and adapt to life in Wales. I’ve got no idea how long they’ll be staying with us – when you sign-up to be a sponsor you commit to hosting for six months, but it could be longer than that – and honestly, I don’t really care.

Olesya and I are such a good match. We spend lots of time together – Olesya has cooked us lots of Ukrainian food like borscht (which I absolutely loved) and we do simple things like go food shopping together – it’s like we’re sisters now, really. 

In a statement responding to Stott’s story, a UK government spokesperson said: “Thanks to the generosity of the public who have offered their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the war and through our Ukraine Family Scheme, more than 86,000 visas have been granted with over 27,000 Ukrainians arriving safely in the UK.

“We are processing thousands of visas a day – this shows the changes we made to streamline the service are working and we’ll continue to build on this success so we can speed up the process even further.”

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Aimee Stott/TikTok