Meet the Norwich couple welcoming Ukrainian refugees into their home

Maya Derrick

Maya Derrick | 4 Apr 2022, 16:12

Humanity truly prevails as folk across Norwich have opened their homes to Ukrainian refugees.

Carol Wilkinson, 61, of Norwich Road in Stoke Holy Cross, will welcome a mother and her two young boys, eight and 11, when they arrive on British soil.

Carol, who will host the family alongside her husband of 31 years John, 68, said: “This is such a desperate situation and it’s something that we can actually do to help.”

The couple eagerly anticipate the arrival of Julia and her two sons from Kyiv, who have been to evacuated to the nearby countryside, in the coming weeks.

Julia’s husband Alexander, a doctor, stays behind to work in a hospital in Ukraine’s capital.

Carol gives an insight into her and John’s journey so far.

How do you prepare to house Ukrainian refugees?

The work to become a host began two weeks ago.

And Carol and John have also joined community groups to ensure that the families coming to Norwich have a population of Ukrainian nationals as a support network.

Carol said: “It’s important that refugees have other Ukrainians so they can still feel like they’ve got a link with home and be able to speak their own language.

“A lady came to talk to us about things we need to consider, and we got lots of information about sorting schools for the children, making sure they have access to transport as well as giving us lots of links to government advise.

“There wasn’t a proper procedure to start off with, but we were lucky that we found our family through linking up with mutual friends.”

But before solidifying their plans, Carol and John had to get the green light from representatives from South Norfolk Council to say that their accommodation is suitable for the incoming family.

What changes have you had to make ahead of their arrival?

With three rooms available now their daughters Frankie, 28, Ella, 26 and 23-year-old Georgia have flown the nest, Carol said that not much has had to change at home but that changes may occur.

“We hope it’s not much longer before they arrive,” she said.

“It’s going to be difficult and a learning curve. I’m sure there’s a lot to learn from each other, it will be great to have a sharing of cultures.”

Donations: To mainland Europe or keeping it local?

Major Nick Coke, The Salvation Army’s refugee response co-ordinator for UK and Ireland, said: “Now that the Homes for Ukraine programme is open, and Ukrainians are being hosted in British communities it is important that newcomers have access to the practical assistance they require.

“The Salvation Army’s Ukraine Crisis Appeal allows donations to be used to support the people impacted by the crisis in the most effective ways and wherever the need is greatest at the time.”

Carol added that although donations are still needed on the front lines of the war, contributions on home soil would also be of great help: “We haven’t got any toys, because our girls moved out years ago. And because we had girls, there’s not much that is suitable for young boys.

“We’ve been asking people to provide us with extra bits, but it would be nice to have a central collection point in Norwich or Norfolk where people can donate and pick up.

“Even things like school uniforms – because they have to be specific to where they attend – are necessary.”

How should we send donations to Ukraine?

Valentina Osborn, managing director of refugee relief charity RefugEase said: “Although the outpouring of compassion from the UK was overwhelmingly heart-warming, sending trucks of clothes can cause more problems than it solves.

“A lot of the chaos at the borders was due to the tidal wave of physical aid donations that were arriving that were not required.

“In 2020, we launched an online shop where you can buy emergency survival items for refugees around the world, that streamlines this whole process, and almost completely eradicates logistics and storage costs.

“It’s an immensely sad situation, but ultimately, kindness is prevailing.”