The outbreak of war in Ukraine prompted an immediate reaction from Peter and Louise Donnachie from Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire. They decided to become a host/sponsor family to those in need.
The couple, parishioners at St Joseph and St Etheldreda in Rugeley, welcomed Svetlana Semeyko, her four-year-old daughter Sophia and their pet chihuahua into their home at the end of June.
Svetlana’s husband could not leave Ukraine but has so far not been conscripted to fight and they remain in regular contact.
As soon as the war started Peter and Louise decided to become hosts, applying through Father Hudson’s Care.
“It was obvious there was going to be lots of displaced people,” said Peter. “We didn’t think twice about it. “We live in a big house and have five adult children, three of whom are married and live away.
“We have friends in the village who are also a host family and Svetlana is close to the people they are looking after. It is working out well.”
As soon as Peter and Louise registered with Father Hudson’s they started to join weekly meetings for hosts. There was lots of information sharing and support.
“I got a phone call, out of the blue, asking if we’d be willing to take in a dog as part of the family,” said Peter. “So mum, daughter and dog. I’m a retired vet so it made sense. We managed to get the dog here, although it felt harder than getting the family!”
When the family arrived the support from Father Hudson’s has continued.
Sophia has now started at the village school and Svetlana has begun working at McDonald’s. She also recently celebrated her 30th birthday with a party.
“I like it here because it is not too different as a country to Ukraine,” said Svetlana. “People are similar, their qualities and values are similar.
“We are very comfortable, and it is such a lovely rural setting.
“It was quite an adventure getting here, because of the dog. We were in Italy, so it was a big logistical challenge.
“We were so tired, exhausted. But we had a warm welcome, posters around the house, lots of hugs. We have been smothered with care. I feel like we’ve come home.
“We are very grateful for all the help the UK has provided, Fr Hudson’s has provided, Peter and Louise have provided.”
Peter and Louise had some experience of short-term hosting, for example hosting a couple who had come to deliver mission at the parish, but in this situation they’ve signed up to host between six and 12 months.
“It has taken a while to settle down into a routine,” said Peter. “We have done that now and it’s a lot easier. Sophia is at school and it’s been a good, stabilising influence.
“One of the big cultural differences we encountered was children go to bed at the same time as their parents in Ukraine! We are not used to that.
“I like to cook and Svetlana likes cooking as well. So there’s a friendly battle as to who’s cooking dinner!
“I know Svetlana would like to be more independent but as long as she wants to stay with us she can.
“I would recommend hosting. If you want to help it’s the most practical way to help those who are displaced. There’s no indication the situation is going to change soon so there may be a need for more hosts in the future.”
To help with the language barrier they all use a translation app and the translation services of Liudmyla Sadova, Ukrainian Refugees’ Support Coordinator at Father Hudson’s.
Sophia’s English is improving daily at school and Svetlana also attends weekly English classes. Working at McDonald’s will also enable her to practise English in a working environment.
As for the future?
“It is very difficult to plan for the long-term,” said Svetlana. “I was hoping my husband would be able to leave Ukraine. But he is a bridge engineer. He will be needed to rebuild whatever is damaged when the time comes.”
Pictured (l-r): Sophia, Louise, Svetlana, Peter.
Thanks to Liudmyla Sadova for helping with interpreting for this interview.