One year on: How Southampton stepped up to support Ukraine

Friday 24 February 2023 will mark a year since Russia invaded Ukraine in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War

Ukrainian and British flags flying in front of Southampton Civic Centre

The date will be observed in Southampton with a vigil at the Queen’s Peace Fountain, East Park, at 7pm, organised by the Southampton Ukrainian Community Support Group, where residents and the Lord Mayor of Southampton will gather to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine, as we reflect on the events of the last 12 months.

The vigil will follow a national minute’s silence at 11am on the same day.

Alongside the economic, humanitarian, and military aid the UK continues to provide to Ukraine, Southampton City Council and the people of Southampton have come together like never before to show their support for those most impacted by the war and demonstrate why our city is recognised globally as a proud city of sanctuary.

A matter of weeks after the invasion, the council, quick to recognise that many Southampton residents wished to donate goods, joined forces with the Polish Social Club to open a temporary facility in the former Toys ‘R’ Us store. The warehouse was inundated with donations and by the end of April 2022, thousands of pallets filled with clothes and food had been sent directly to refugees who had been displaced in Poland and Ukraine.

When Ukrainians started arriving in Southampton via the Government’s Friends & Family and Homes for Ukraine schemes, the council’s Stronger Communities Team established a Welcome Hub at Central Library to provide resources, health and welfare support, and links with organisations like Citizens Advice and DWP. The team facilitated more than 500 interactions and ran a well-attended community event in Hoglands Park to bring guests and the existing Ukrainian community together.

The Homes for Ukraine scheme, which allows individuals, charities, community groups and businesses in the UK to bring Ukrainians to safety, was launched in March 2022. To date, we have welcomed 226 Ukrainians and helped them to build new lives in Southampton, including Olha, who moved here in May 2022 and continues to live with her sponsor in the city.

Talking about her experience, Olha said: "I remember my first impression of Southampton like it was yesterday. I was walking in the park and still expected to hear air alarms [as in Ukraine]. It is strange how a lot of stress influences your body and mind, and you only notice it in a safer environment. Initially, I was numb and empty, but after a few months I felt more comfortable here. I am so grateful to my host and the people I have met along the way for their patience and hospitality. With their help, and support from Southampton City Council, I have a better understanding of English and British culture, I am looking for work, and hope to be able to rent my own home. I hope and I believe the Ukrainian community can have a great influence on your society, because we are happy to be a part of it.”

Olha’s sponsor, Angie Baker, signed up to the Homes for Ukraine scheme because she wanted to help. In her role as sponsor, Angie benefits from welfare and safeguarding checks and receives further help from partner organisations across the city. She also receives £350 a month to help cover her costs. Angie said: “I have made a lifelong friend in Olha and I love having her here. The council has been very helpful in providing support and answering questions, and I’m looking forward to continuing to be a sponsor for as long as necessary.”

Southampton City Council continues to support new and settled Ukrainian guests by:

  • Providing advice at Central Library, where trained staff are on hand to answer questions and signpost to other organisations as appropriate.
  • Working closely with Citizens Advice, DWP, City Life Education and Action for Refugees (CLEAR) and the Southampton Ukrainian Community Support Group on wraparound support.
  • Ensuring guests have opportunities to develop language and employment skills, register with a GP, set up a bank account, and access financial help if needed.
  • Translating ‘welcome’ documentation into Ukrainian.
  • Having a dedicated operational team who regularly meet with sponsors and guests and organise events across the city.

The Right Worshipful Lord Mayor of Southampton, Councillor Jacqui Rayment, said:

“As we approach this anniversary, we stand with the people of Ukraine, and especially the local Ukrainian community, who have been deeply affected by unprovoked attacks on an independent democratic state. The people of Southampton have shown incredible generosity by donating goods, providing support, and opening their homes to enable Ukrainians to come to the UK and live safely in our communities. Southampton is a true city of sanctuary, and, with millions of Ukrainians being forced from their homes, I very much hope we can continue to offer peace and hospitality to those who need our help in the future.”

Leader of Southampton City Council, Councillor Satvir Kaur, added:

“As a council, we remain committed to supporting our Ukrainian community and all refugees coming to live here. Southampton is a dynamic and diverse city, with a proud history of welcoming people from around the world, so I would like to thank everyone who has opened their homes and their hearts to help the people of Ukraine over the last year.”

To make it possible for Ukrainian guests to continue living in Southampton, more homes and sponsors are needed. The council wants to hear from landlords with a good quality property with two or more bedrooms, homeowners with a spare room, or renters who have a spare room and have their landlord’s permission to take part in Homes for Ukraine.

To become a sponsor today, please visit Homes for Ukraine.