One year on - Ukrainians reflect on their time living in the Dover district

Ukranians in Dover

Olga and Olesia outside the Ukrainian hub at the Sunshine Cafe in Dover.

One year on since the atrocities began in Ukraine and families from the war-torn country have spoken about their time living in the Dover district. 

Some 114 properties in the area are housing families through the Government's Homes for Ukraine scheme, which is being led by Kent County Council locally. However there is still a desperate need for hosts, with Ukrainians arriving daily to the UK as Russian troops continue their attack. 

Dover District Council has been supporting Ukrainians get access to services, including registering with community facilities and signing up to English courses. 

Several drop-in hubs are also regularly held by DDC, with one run at the Sunrise Café on Snargate Street in Dover every Thursday. 

Olga Gosal is one of the women who visits the hub each week. 

The 37-year-old arrived in the UK in April last year after leaving Ukraine with her 13-year-old son. 

She said: “We are being hosted by an English family who are being incredibly nice to us and have done everything to make us comfortable. 

“I arrived from Kharkiv in the east of Ukraine. My mum and my dad are still there, due to taking care of an elderly relative, and so is my sister, her husband and their daughter, so I am very worried for them.” 

Olga said she and her son witnessed bombing, shelling and shooting, so she left to keep him safe. 

She applied through the Homes for Ukraine scheme and a host was soon found in Dover. She arrived five weeks later after travelling through Europe by train. 

“Everything has been very good here, we enjoy Dover and the host has been incredibly helpful and patient, and helped with our English,” she said. 

“My son is at school here. He’s 13, which is a difficult age anyway, and he does find it hard to fit in. The language barrier is a bit of a problem. 

“Our host family is a mother and father and two children, the son is 18, the daughter is 16. My son has got really attached to the hosts’ kids and he has a strong emotional bond with them.” 

Olga is working but currently has no shifts so is focusing on improving her English through local courses. 

“Without knowing English well it’s quite hard to find the right answers to things, but Dover District Council has been very helpful with this,” she said. 

“We’ve received a lot of support and overall people in Dover have been very welcoming, so we’ve enjoyed everything so far. 

“I’m planning to stay here until the war finishes so that my child is safe. We are now looking for a place to rent once our contract ends with the host in April.” 

Olga’s friend Olesia Kachan is also staying in the district after leaving her home in Mariupol in March last year with her two young children, aged nine and three, and husband. 

The 39-year-old says their house in Ukraine was destroyed in the blasts and for two weeks they stayed in an underground bunker with other Ukrainians, fearing for their lives. 

“It was a very scary time and we could hear all this terrible noise,” said Olesia. “When we left Mariupol my son couldn’t sleep and he would cry – he was very scared. 

“I was pleased when we found out we could come to England when we found a host in St Margaret’s. We arrived in June and they have been very helpful and welcoming.” 

Olesia, who is an accountant, said her mother and step-father and her husband’s parents were able to find hosts nearby, too, so they were able to come together. 

Her husband, who works as a doctor in Ukraine, was given permission by the Ukrainian Government to leave his home city due to back problems. Other male relatives, however, have had to stay, meaning a constant worry for them all. 

Olesia and her family stayed with their hosts for six months but have recently moved into a hotel while they wait to move into rented accommodation in Folkestone. 

She said: “Our hosts have been full of happiness to have us here; they are very kind people. 

“Now we have found a home in Folkestone they are finding lots of furniture for us and still helping to make sure we are ok. 

“DDC has been helpful too, making sure we have support and helping us access what we need. 

“I'm hoping to start volunteering soon as I want to start working and to give something back.” 

She said the Dover community has been welcoming and that her son has made friends at school and is excelling in piano. 

“He is happy here, he’s very friendly so speaks to lots of people,” she said. “We like Dover very much and are very grateful to the community.” 

Hosts Jane and Richard Phillips, who live in St Margaret’s, took in a Ukrainian mother, her four-year-old child and the grandparents for eight months, until they found their own accommodation. 

Mrs Phillips said: “We felt we had the right space to take in a family and I’ve done a lot of work with refugees so I know some of the issues that people would need support with. 

“There are huge positives being a host. It knocks you out of your comfort zone and you start relating cross-culturally - people do life in very different ways.  

“It is hard work, though, and it changes your life hugely. I think some hosts, who are good-hearted people who wanted to help, were quite amazed at some of the complications. 

“Things like helping them access English classes, Universal Credit, biometric testing, visa applications and health provision. This is not straightforward – especially for someone who doesn’t speak English. 

“It’s so important to help them settle and integrate, and helping people develop their English is an absolute priority.” 

Mrs Phillips says there is a lot to think about when taking in a Ukrainian family, but that for many hosts it has created positive connections and relationships. 

“I think people in Dover really have reached out towards the Ukrainians I know and that’s lovely,” she said. 

“I think it’s the host families who have felt the pressures as there are lots of issues around hosting, such as boundary management, giving people the right space, the opportunity to make their own food, connect - and not connect - and being sensitive about things, like not talking about the war until they are ready. 

“But it is a hugely positive experience and with the right support, to help with all the paperwork and other complications, it can open up people’s worlds.” 

KCC has increased its host rates to not only recognise the kindness of those taking people in, but to help with the increasing cost of living. 

A national moment of silence will be held on 24 February at 11am to mark a year since the war broke out and to reaffirm the UK’s solidarity and support for the people of Ukraine.  

For more about what Kent is doing to help and how to get involved see  

For support in the Dover district go to  

 Ukranians in Dover3

Posted on 20 February 2023

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