After leaving their homeland, Ukrainians face an uncertain future

Ukrainians are four times more likely to become homeless than other families in Britain, a study by the Red Cross shows. And the more than 200 Ukrainians who are living there worry whether they will be allowed to stay there for a long time. It's a problem across Europe, the US and Canada, where more than 6 million Ukrainian refugees have taken refuge

(Reuters) - When she arrived in England almost two years ago, Mila Panchenko thought her long journey from the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol was over and that she could now rest easy.

But after moving house four times since then, the 55-year-old Ukrainian has declared herself homeless, and her future is uncertain. She has nowhere to turn. The apartment block in the city now occupied by the Russians was bombed and then collapsed.

In her room at a temporary homeless accommodation run by the YMCA charity in Hatfield, a town near London, Panchenko said she was at the mercy of the British Government.

"At any moment they can tell me that the war is over, goodbye! Where should I go then?", she said.

Panchenko is not the only one. Ukrainians are four times more likely to become homeless than other families in Britain, a study by the Red Cross shows. And more than 200 thousand Ukrainians, who are living in the United Kingdom, worry whether they will be allowed to stay there for a long time.

It's a problem across Europe, the US and Canada, where more than 6 million refugees have taken refuge, two years after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

There is deep sympathy for Ukrainians, opinion polls show, but with no signs of an end to the war, governments that have provided short-term aid are now facing bigger problems than they expected and are struggling to control spending.

In recent days, Britain has halved the length of stay for new arrivals to 18 months and ended a scheme allowing Ukrainians to join family members in Britain, saying it was simplifying the provision.

It has also cut some refugee support funding for local councils, similar to cuts considered by Ireland and already made by some Eastern European countries.

Earlier this month, Poland, which hosts nearly 1 million Ukrainian refugees, extended social aid to them but only until June, a departure from EU guidelines that members must continue support until March 2025. Poland has said that it is possible to reduce payments in the future.

Some administrations are also swayed by the wishes of the government in Kiev, which wants Ukrainian refugees to eventually return to their homeland to help build it.

While offering an 18-month visa extension last week to Ukrainian refugees in the country, the British Home Office said it supported "the Ukrainian Government's hope that its citizens will eventually be returned".


Lack of housing

But Panchenko does not have a home to return to in Mariupol. She wants to make a life in Hatfield.

"First, I want to thank this country", said Panchenko from her room, where a painting of Kiev hangs.

We "want to be useful here," she said of Ukrainians like herself, whose homes were destroyed or are under Russian occupation.

After being taken by Russia during the siege of Mariupol, she escaped and reached England, after a brief stay in Italy. He was placed in a local family that had volunteered to shelter a Ukrainian refugee, under the program called "Homes for Ukraine".

By taking a college course in England and volunteering in the area, she felt more independent. Unable to find a home and after staying with society for a period, Panchenko registered as homeless.

She was taken to a hospice before moving to the YMCA home in Hatfield.

In the Welwyn district of Hatfield, 19 Ukrainian families and nine Ukrainian individuals registered for homelessness support, according to government data on 31 January.

The government makes payments for each arrival of Ukrainians, designed to help councils integrate refugees for three years. From 1 January 2023, payments were reduced from £10.500 to £5900. A similar scheme for Afghans offers more than £20.000.

With local councils having to provide longer-term support than they thought, pressure from multiple asylum schemes and housing shortages are driving more Ukrainians to register as homeless, said Roger Gough, refugee and migration adviser at Local Government Association.

"Funding agreements for councils to support newcomers must be reviewed urgently", said Goughi.

In response, a government official said it had allocated £109 million this year to help homeless Ukrainians, adding that "the majority of Ukrainians" did not need such support.

The government will provide a further £1,2bn by 2026 to help councils build or buy homes for Ukrainian and Afghan refugees, Britain's Department of Housing has said.

Britain has also increased payments to hosts under Homes for Ukraine to £500 a month from £350 to help with living costs, the department said.

The former Minister for Refugees, Richard Harrington, has said that he created the "Homes for Ukraine" program after the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that he could accept "a large number of refugees".

"We call out" for volunteers to house refugees, Harrington said. "And 210.000 people responded."

After the initial enthusiasm, a government official said that "the number of people applying as volunteers has decreased significantly".

In a survey published in October by Britain's Office for National Statistics, two-thirds of landlords said rising living costs were affecting their ability to provide support. More than half intended to provide accommodation for 18 months or more.

The outlook is not certain in other European countries either.

In Germany, the head of a regional government association has called for future arrivals from Ukraine to receive the same benefits as other asylum seekers in the country, rather than being given generous unemployment benefits - a demand so far resisted by the government.

After multiple applications, Scotland has paused the so-called 2022 super-support scheme for Ukrainians, which had allowed them to choose the government as a visa sponsor, bypassing the need to find a private home host.

A Scottish Government spokesman has said Scotland would spend £40m in 2024/25 on the Ukrainian resettlement programme, down from £100m in 2023/24, and that Scotland wants to "achieve new settlement routes".



On February 17, Britain said it would grant an 18-month extension to people whose 3-year visas would expire next year.

The application to extend the visa can be made only three months before the expiration of the current visa, which still does not offer residence in Britain, said Volodymyr Holovachovi, who left Ukraine before the military mobilization.

He has said that the lack of security of residence has led to problems with employers and landlords seeking security of refugees' legal status.

"It is unclear how we will prove the 'right to work', the 'right to rent apartments' in the future," said Holovachovi, 31, who works in marketing. "Without these, we are at the mercy of landlords and employers."

For Panchenko, the temporary measures do not remove the fear of deportation.

The former factory manager and local politician has said her life would be different if she was offered a path to residency status, being able to contribute towards a pension and the right to live. work or study.

"I'm anxious all the time," she said. "I have nowhere to go back. I would take my suitcase, leave England, where can I be useful and where would I go?", she added.

Prepared by: Latra Gashi