SWU in solidarity with Ukraine – two years of war

Chrissie Beatty along with Lyudmila and her son Myroslav are standing in front of a statue painted with the Ukraine flag and the words "I WANT TO LIVE"

SWU Executive Committee UK Representative Chrissie Beatty writes about the precarious situation of Ukrainian refugees in the UK and social work’s role to speak out.

Two years ago, on February 24, 2022, the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Russian forces launched attacks in major cities across Ukraine, including Berdyansk, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Sumy, and the capital Kyiv. The war has resulted in a humanitarian crisis on a vast scale.

Thousands of Ukrainians have been internally displaced or fled abroad, with neighbouring Poland recording the highest number of border crossings from Ukraine, in excess of 14.4 million.(1) The UN human rights office has verified 29,579 civilian casualties with 10,242 people killed, including 575 children, and more than 19,300 injured, including 1,264 children. There are reports of people from ages four to 80 being subjected to conflict-related sexual violence.(2)

The war in Ukraine has had a particularly brutal impact on its children; many have lost family members and loved ones, been injured, and faced drastic disruptions to their lives.

Being forced to leave their homes and communities has left them unable to attend school and forced them to live in unsafe environments, experiencing challenges no one should have to face.

5 million children have had their education disrupted and it is estimated that 1.5 million children are at risk of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.(3) These numbers continue to rise and the need for humanitarian assistance will remain substantial in 2024, with some 14.6 million people needing humanitarian aid and protection.(3)

Russian forces’ widespread use of torture and continued attacks on energy-related infrastructure may amount to crimes against humanity, according to a United Nations investigative body.(4) The UK government is continuing to provide a range of economic, humanitarian, and defensive military assistance to Ukraine, and it has also imposed harsh sanctions on Russia and Belarus.(5)

The UK launched the Homes for Ukraine scheme on 14 March 2022. However, two years on, many of those Ukrainian refugees who reached the UK are again finding themselves homeless.

The Homes for Ukraine scheme allows UK citizens to host Ukrainian nationals who have no links to the UK, and more than 100,000 people and organisations registered their interest within the first day.(6) Over 180,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK via Homes for Ukraine and the Ukraine Family Scheme, which allows Ukrainians to join family members already in the UK.

However, government statistics published on August 15, 2023 show that 7,300 Ukrainian households have been classified as homeless, including 4,740 households with children.(7)

Ukrainian refugee families in the UK are four times as likely to become homeless.(8) The three main factors influencing the trend are: a breakdown in hosting arrangements, problems accessing long-term housing (particularly in the private rented sector), and inconsistent and insufficient support for refugees.

The schemes rely on the goodwill and the capacity of the public to house Ukrainian nationals, who often have multiple needs. Hosts in the Homes for Ukraine scheme were asked to provide accommodation for six months, and while some have lasted for a longer period, many have ended at the six-month point. For some hosts, they felt they wanted their space back, while for others, the arrangements have proved more challenging than they anticipated – Ukrainians experience a complex trauma triad of personal traumatic experiences, traumatisation through life in a foreign environment, and vicarious trauma through loved ones remaining in Ukraine.(9)

The cost-of-living crisis has also played a role and prevented many hosts from being able to continue providing accommodation.

The number of people offering to host has dropped significantly, making it harder for Ukrainians to find a host or to be re-matched when an arrangement ends. Most have turned to the private sector to source accommodation, but as well as the supply and affordability issues in the private sector, Ukrainians often face additional barriers. A survey from March 2023 showed that 49% of Ukrainian refugees were unable to provide a guarantor and 43% have insufficient funds for a deposit. Alternative accommodation cannot always be found in the same location, meaning families may have to leave their support networks and children have had to change schools.

Local authorities received funding to support families accommodated during the first year of the scheme but this has now stopped, and funding for new arrivals has halved. Local authorities have never received funding for arrivals under the Ukraine Family Scheme. Charities and organisations that help to source housing have also had to scale back their support.(10)

My personal connection with the war in Ukraine began when I met a lady who had found herself in this very situation. Her original host family were unable to continue offering accommodation and she was unable to find a new host, so had been placed in temporary accommodation.

"Lyudmila’s father and brother have
remained and are both fighting for
the Ukrainian Army."

Lyudmila had arrived in the UK in June 2022 with her 3-year-old son, Myroslav. She had left her home in the Kyiv region, where her and her family had lived and she had worked in accountancy, as well as having her own private music school.

Her family have all been separated; her twin sister is in Dublin with her niece, where she has been joined by their mother, who had to hide in her basement and wait for the tanks to pass before she could flee. Her father and her brother (pictured in the photo) have remained and are both fighting for the Ukrainian Army. Her contact with them is limited due to the damage in infrastructure but she has learned this week that her father has been injured and suffered a stroke as a result; he is now in hospital. Lyudmila has also been separated from her friends who are now spread across the world in countries such as Spain, Ireland, and America.

Since being in the UK, Lyudmila has found work in a hotel as a housekeeper with a zero-hour contract, but a back injury is currently preventing her from working. Myroslav attends primary school and Lyudmila is grateful for the additional support they have both received from the school. However, the changes in accommodation mean the school is now over an hour away and requires two bus journeys. Lyudmila completes the journey with him twice a day as she felt he needed to have some continuity and stability.

Lyudmila has also attended college where she has been learning English but she is finding the language barriers difficult, particularly when it comes to helping Myroslav with his school work and navigating the Universal Credit system.

Myroslav remembers leaving the Ukraine and still asks Lyudmila when they can go and get his toys that the people came to take. Lyudmila also carries the trauma of what she saw and experienced, as well as the continuous worry about what is happening to her family and friends back home. She follows the news closely and every life lost and every town reduced to rubble is another heart break for her.

Lyudmila lives with the uncertainty of what will happen to her and her son when her UK visa, issued for 3 years, comes to an end.

When I invited Lyudmila and Myroslav to live with me and my family I wanted to provide them with somewhere safe to build a new life. My mother had recently passed away and we had an annexe that was now empty. What I did not anticipate was how much they would enrich our lives.

They have become part of our family; Myroslav now has 4 big brothers to play football with and we have the joy and energy that a little one brings to a home. I help Lyudmila with forms and childcare and I have a friendship that I know will last a lifetime.

However, I don’t know what will become of my dear friend at the end of this year.

Solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants

Social work is based on respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all people. As social workers we have a significant and enduring role to play in promoting the rights and welfare of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants; countering racism and social exclusion; and continuing to be vocal in our opposition to the atrocities happening in Ukraine.

SWU and BASW consistently promote social work’s role in supporting and speaking out for all refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and internationally. We will continue to speak out against the UK Nationality and Borders Act 2022 from which stem policies that are as impractical and ineffective as they are morally objectionable. We are committed to promoting a humane, rights-based system of support for all asylum seekers and refugees in the UK, that is compliant with international law.(11)

You may also be interested in reading the SWU in solidarity with Ukraine 2022 statement.


  1. https://www.statista.com/topics/9087/russia-ukraine-war-2022/#topicOverview ↩︎
  2. https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/01/1145372 ↩︎
  3. https://www.worldvision.org/disaster-relief-news-stories/ukraine-crisis-facts-faqs-and-how-to-help ↩︎
  4. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2024/country-chapters/ukraine ↩︎
  5. https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/russian-invasion-of-ukraine-uk-government-response ↩︎
  6. https://www.ft.com/content/c2a2a7e6-9d46-4178-ae25-3fa978250161 ↩︎
  7. https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/thousands-of-ukrainian-refugees-in-the-uk-are-now-homeless-why ↩︎
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/21/ukrainian-refugee-families-in-uk-at-risk-of-homelessness-this-winter ↩︎
  9. https://www.tameside.gov.uk/TamesideMBC/media/PublicHealth/BJGP-Uktraine-Refugee-article.pdf ↩︎
  10. https://www.local.gov.uk/parliament/briefings-and-responses/anniversary-homes-ukraine-scheme-house-commons ↩︎
  11. https://bettercarenetwork.org/sites/default/files/2023-07/181274_uk_social_work_and_the_war_in_ukraine.pdf ↩︎