Ukrainian refugees feeling 'punished' by being moved 170 miles to caravan site


Ukrainian refugees in south east Wales have been forced to move 170 miles

Ukrainian refugees in south east Wales have been forced to move 170 miles (Image: Wales Online )

Ukrainian refugee families who fled devastating conflict back home and spent months building their new lives in south east Wales have spoken of their frustrations after being moved 170 miles away from where they had settled.

From having to leave their jobs and taking their children out of school to staying in caravans, the families have had their lives turned upside down a second time due to a lack of suitable accommodation for them.

The families claim they were told to leave a Welsh Government-procured hotel in Monmouthshire in May before being moved to a caravan park in Denbighshire as the government looks to close its hotels acting as welcome centres for refugees.

Twenty-six families are now reportedly currently staying at the holiday park in Denbighshire - one of many currently being used to house refugees who have had to move there from all over Wales. Seven of the families have moved there from Monmouthshire in the last few weeks and more are expected to follow.

After leaving their hotels, they said they felt rushed out and moved to north Wales while friends had been moved to Tenby and Wrexham.

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Not only did they feel like they were being punished because of their difficult financial situations, the families felt that because they were unable to find new accommodation, they had no say as to where they were moved and felt upset by how they had been treated.

Elena Olkhovyk was one of many refugees who fled Ukraine and travelled to Wales after her home in Chernihiv came under threat from Russian forces.

The mum said she was told to move from the hotel in Monmouthshire to Denbighshire with her daughter Viktoriia.

She told Wales Online: ““We were moved here to Wales and were promised there would be no unrest. But people have lost their jobs, my daughter is stressed because she’s had to move schools. Many Ukrainians are currently living on this holiday park who are very dissatisfied. I also am now receiving bills for the caravan. When I asked Denbighshire Council why they were billing me they told me it is because I turned down two housing options.

“I am pregnant and because of all of these situations I am very nervous. It’s detrimental to my health and the health of my unborn child. We have many questions and little answers.”

Elena Olkhovyk's caravan at the Denbighshire holiday park

Elena Olkhovyk's caravan at the Denbighshire holiday park (Image: Wales Online)

Elena said she has been struggling to find a house to rent as she said her family have been left living inside a small caravan.

“The families in the hotel were separated. Some were sent to Denbighshire like us, others to Tenby, and the rest were sent to Wrexham. We are constantly under pressure. They offer housing options that do not suit five people. Every day I am looking for a house to rent for all of us but it’s so hard to find. Looking for work here is also very difficult,” she added.

The mould on her walls is causing her to worry about their health, adding:“You can live in the caravan in the warm summer time but when we arrived it was cold, the heater could not cope and we were freezing at night.

“There are several types of caravans here and we are in bronze, which is the lowest type.There is mould in my house on the walls. There is mould on the curtains in the bedroom.

“A pipe leaks under the van and in the bedroom the floor is wet because of the leaking pipe. We’ve had no support.”

Elena’s friend Olena, who is currently living in the caravan next door, said she had her two cats taken from her by the council.

“I have two cats and when I moved to Denbighshire they told me that there would be no problem with me keeping the cats,” Olena said. “But less than a month later the council told me that I should give the cats to a shelter, but I can’t afford it. It’s very expensive for me. I’m also having to pay £33 a week for the caravan. If I pay for the kennels and the bills for the caravan I cannot afford to eat or buy personal hygiene products. It’s a big problem that I think about all of the time. I’m really trying to look for a house every day but it’s so hard.

“They want us out of the caravans as soon as possible but we’re being offered accommodation in locations that aren’t good for us and where there are no jobs or shops. Meanwhile, I’m being sent invoices for the caravan. We were offered a house in Criccieth but there were no shops or jobs available for us near the house.”

Olha, 36, who was an economist in her home city of Odesa before moving to the UK last year, worked hard to find herself a job working in a factory near the hotel in Monmouthshire. She said she felt supported in Monmouthshire but she didn't feel she'd had the same support in Denbighshire. She explained that she had little money and couldn't afford houses that were being offered to her, especially since having to leave her job to make the move north.

"The super sponsor scheme was supposed to help us find a home," Olha said. "But I cannot afford to rent the houses that are being offered to me. I've been offered a house for £1,000 (a month). I had to refuse it as I would not be able to pay that price. The government has said it will pay for six months for a rented house for us, but we will have to pay back three months of rent. I still can't afford the accommodation on this basis. It's very difficult. I am in a foreign country and I don't know what will happen to me and my family tomorrow."

The Welsh Government has repeatedly said welcome centres at hotels, holiday parks and the like were only ever meant to be a short term measure, and the idea that many of them would still be open well over a year after Ukrainians moved into them was not envisaged.

A total of 1,200 people of the 3,200 people who have travelled to Wales from Ukraine through the government’s super sponsor scheme remain in government-procured initial accommodation setting, with many being billed weekly by local authorities on the basis that they’ve rejected two previous offers of accommodation elsewhere.

The Welsh Government is looking to close all of its welcome centres within 15 months, beginning with hotels which are more costly and difficult to run for local authorities than other initial accommodation settings, such as B&Bs and holiday parks.

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: "We are proud to be a Nation of Sanctuary and have welcomed over 7,000 people from Ukraine to Wales, including more than 3,200 through our super sponsor route. So far we have supported nearly 2,000 people to move on from our initial accommodation into longer term housing. We will continue to do everything we can to help move people into longer term accommodation – primarily with hosts or into private housing across Wales.

“In circumstances where forms of initial accommodation are closing as part of our long term settlement process, we work with local authorities and others to move on as many people as possible onto longer term accommodation before a site closes. Those people unable to move onto longer term accommodation are offered alternative initial accommodation at welcome centres located across Wales in line with our 'no-one left out' approach.

“Initial accommodation was never intended to be long term and we are committed to ensuring people from Ukraine can build a new life in Wales at the earliest opportunity. An important part of this is to provide them with the opportunity to live more independently. We do not comment on individual cases, however local authorities work with guests in initial accommodation to ensure that their health and wellbeing are supported.”

A spokesman for Denbighshire County Council said: “We do not comment on individual cases. The council follows Welsh Government guidelines in relation to housing Ukrainian refugees, and any charges are only applied to individuals following two reasonable offers of accommodation.”