Helping people to heal is at the heart of Cheshire West and Chester’s role as a borough of sanctuary for those fleeing conflict in their homelands.
Healing has been the theme of this year’s Refugee Week, from 20 to 26 July, which is a chance to recognise the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary.
The borough is home to many people, including people from Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan, who are building new lives for themselves in the area.
Cheshire West and Chester Council, which works alongside partners like Cheshire, Halton and Warrington Race and Equality Centre (CHAWREC) and the Unity Centre in Chester to support people settling into the borough, has been asking people to share their stories to mark Refugee Week.
Ukrainian mum Nataliia Rubtsova, who is staying with sponsors in the borough, explained how her family’s lives changed when war began and how the UK is helping.
She said, “Until 24 February, 2022 we lived happily and peacefully, dreamed, made plans for the future, raised children. But one day everything changed.”
She added, “It’s all very hard. We were forced to leave our native country in order to save our children. We had to literally live in a small car with the whole family.”
The family found out about the Homes for Ukraine scheme and met a couple called Jane and Nigel who offered them accommodation in Cheshire West and Chester, helping them with paperwork and supporting them to settle in.
Nataliia said, “Jane and Nigel not only opened their home to us, they opened their hearts, they saved our children and us from the war.”
The family has been welcomed by neighbours and schools and praised the work of local organisations in making sure they have the support they need, including English lessons and opportunities to work and study.
Nataliia said, “We have hope, every day we feel calmer and more confident. We have new dreams. I finally see that my children have a full childhood.
“I am glad that my little daughter is smiling again, she has begun to sleep peacefully again, she has the opportunity to play carefree.”
She added, “The generosity of people living in the UK amazes me to the core. This incredible flow of positive energy, kindness, care and support is able to overcome a lot of the grief that the Ukrainian people have to endure.”
Anna Shkalikova has also come to the borough from Ukraine with her family and explained how something as simple as a seaside visit to Llandudno has helped to bring hope.
She said, “Every year our family usually spends a few weeks on the sea and the children eagerly wait for this time all year.
“The war began unexpectedly for all of us and changed everything – the plans, the beliefs, the life.
“Many thanks to everybody who is involved in that our kids are safe now and even have the opportunity to go for a walk to see the Irish Sea.”
Refugees from Syria also praised the welcome they have received in the borough, and the role of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses run by CHAWREC.
Iman and Radwan, who left Syria for the borough in 2018, said, “We’re attending ESOL classes with CHAWREC and we’ve learnt a lot about the British culture and how to manage our day-to-day life.
“Cheshire West and Chester is a nice place to live, people are friendly and it’s quiet.”
Hussein, who moved to the borough from Syria in 2021, said, “I get my strength by going to the mosque with some friends and from my English teachers at the Unity Centre.
“I study English with CHAWREC and do some voluntary work at the Unity Centre cafe.
“West Cheshire is a lovely place to live in and it’s safe too.”
Hiba and Hosam, who also moved to the borough from Syria in 2018, said, “We’ve started learning English from scratch and still trying very hard, we try to engage with different people to practice what we’ve learnt so far and we do some voluntary work, too.
“Fortunately, there are many support in the area from the Council, jobcentre, CHAWREC and Forfutures.”
The Council’s role in relation to refugees is to help them find safe accommodation and to support them to learn English, claim benefits, find work, integrate with the wider community and ultimately to be independent.
Cllr Samantha Dixon, Cheshire West and Chester Council Leader’s Champion for Refugees, said, “I’m very proud of our borough’s role as a place of sanctuary and even more proud of the welcome our community gives to refugees.
“I know how much it means to those families and individuals who have been forced to leave their homes and come somewhere totally alien to them.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who plays their part to make our borough a sanctuary and extend my welcome to everyone seeking safety in Cheshire West and Chester.”
For more information on how the borough helps people seeking sanctuary visit: www.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk and search for ‘Refugees’.
Anyone considering becoming a sponsor in the Homes for Ukraine scheme can email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Image: Anna Shkalikova said her children, Nastya, seven, and Denys, five, love their trips to the seaside at home in Ukraine and were happy that finding safety in the borough gave them chance to have a trip to Llandudno. Inset (Left): ‘Let all countries in the word be friends’ – a drawing by Nastya. Inset (Right) “I would like to have peace and justice in Ukraine and our life would be similar like in my picture” – a picture by Denis Shynko, 15, from Kremenchug.