Retired Grandma Opens Heart and Home to Ukrainian War Refugees

Margaret, Karolina and Svitlana
Margaret, Karolina and Svitlana

Retired Margaret Hickson has welcomed a three-year-old Ukrainian girl and her mother into her home in West Rainton. Karolina Dolyniuk and her mother Svitlana Oliinyk left their family behind to flee the war in their home country. Margaret and Svitlana are now encouraging others to offer refuge to Ukrainians as the war continues and temperatures drop.

The trio hit it off instantly and arrangements were made for Svitlana and Karolina to move in days later. However, the joy was short-lived as Svitlana caught coronavirus the next day. She also had to spend four days in the hospital with a stomach complaint. Despite this, Margaret looked after Karolina like a grandmother would, and the bond between the three of them continued to grow.

“I have a granddaughter and a great granddaughter in York and I would hope somebody would help them in the same situation,” Margaret said. “It has worked out really well. You have to be prepared to support as well as being there for them, and perhaps more so because Svitlana is on her own with a little one.”

“The friends and neighbours in the village and the village church have been brilliant,” Margaret added. “The neighbours knit Karolina jumpers, it makes a huge difference. I do feel it is a worthwhile experience and I am pleased I have done it.”

Reflecting on the situation she has left behind at home, Svitlana said, “It is not good. I miss my husband and my family. My sister is in Kyiv and a bomb fell near her apartment.”

Svitlana is now working in a local restaurant, but does not want to return to Ukraine because it is “too dangerous.” Instead, she is hoping to find a sponsor who can help her sister come to West Rainton so they can see each other again.

Durham County Council has helped almost 500 Ukrainians set up homes in the area, and provides support to both sponsors and guests. The council also processes government payments to both sponsors and guests under the Homes for Ukraine program.

Cllr Alan Shield, the council’s Cabinet member for equality and inclusion, said, “It is lovely to hear how well Svitlana, Karolina and Margaret are getting on and it is very clear from Margaret’s words just how rewarding an experience she is finding it to have them stay. We are incredibly grateful to her and the hundreds of other people across County Durham who have offered a place of refuge to Ukrainians, especially given the difficulties we are all facing in this cost-of-living crisis.”

“No-one knows how long the war in Ukraine will last,” Shield added, “but if anyone else feels able to open their home to people still seeking refuge, we would love to hear from them so we can assure them they would not be alone and talk them through the range of support we provide, financial and other.”

Through the government’s Homes for Ukraine program, Svitlana found a sponsor for them to stay with, but the arrangement broke down. The pair was then temporarily placed in West Rainton with the help of Durham County Council. Margaret, who has a granddaughter and great-granddaughter in York, said that she would hope someone would help them in the same situation.

The council has helped almost 500 Ukrainians set up homes in County Durham and supports both sponsors and guests through the Homes for Ukraine program.

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