'Ukrainetransport' refugees receive a warm welcome in Surrey

Viktoria and son Dima have been taken in by Nikki Gilbert and her family, one of 300 placements in a scheme instigated by Rabbi Jonathan Romain


Almost 300 Ukrainian families have now been placed with UK hosts through a Kindertransport-inspired scheme launched by Rabbi Jonathan Romain, with 150 more anticipated over the next few weeks.

The Maidenhead Reform minister started the scheme with the support of other Reform and Liberal leaders and it has to date attracted around 2,000 offers of help.

Among the latest to welcome Ukrainian arrivals is Nikki Gilbert, 63, and her family from Farnham in Surrey.

The semi-retired tour leader collected her guests from Luton Airport on Wednesday morning after weeks of “difficult” form-filling and the anxious wait for visas for a mother and her six-year-old son.

Meeting them had been “very emotional. We all had tears in our eyes. They just had two very small backpacks. They must have been exhausted.

“It was lovely to see them in person finally,” she added. “We arrived with blue and yellow balloons and a sign with their names on. There were at least ten to 12 other people there with Ukranian flags all waiting to meet other refugees. It was quite powerful.

“We’ve converted our dining room into a double bedroom so the mum, Viktoria, and her son Dima can be together.”

Conversation on the hour-long car journey home was conducted through Google translate.
Dima, whose father is still in Ukraine, has been having nightmares, waking distressed about things he has experienced during the war.

“I think they spent a week in air raid shelters,” explained Ms Gilbert, who is connected to North West Surrey Synagogue.

She, her partner and her son were united in wanting to help a refugee family, pointing out: “Our family were refugees; they were from Lithuania.”

Ms Gilbert offered to host despite only recently having undergone breast cancer surgery — and she is expecting to start radiotherapy in a few weeks’ time.

Rabbi Romain said her generosity was typical of the reaction from the Jewish community.

“Stepping back from it all, I have to say that the response in Britain has been remarkable.
“I have no doubt that future history books will record how people in this country and the Jewish community opened their hearts and homes to the Ukrainian refugees.

“The compassion and kindness over here is in stark contrast to the cruelty over there.”

Ms Gilbert said that locals had donated furniture and clothes for the new arrivals. There have also been gifts of toys for Dima’s birthday.

“We are focused now on settling them in. Two of our local schools have said they would have a place for him [despite being over-subscribed] so I will be taking Viktoria to visit them and they can decide where he wants to go.”

Viktoria worked as a jewellery valuer in Ukraine but can also repair jewellery and wants to pursue that here.

Ms Gilbert has appealed for donations of the necessary tools to help her get started.
Rabbi Romain, meanwhile, is focusing on the next stage of support for both refugees and their hosts.

“Having a stranger in one’s home for six months is a big commitment,” he told the JC.

“While there are many whose circumstances meant that they cannot host someone, there are those who are keen to help in other ways and I am trying to link them up.

“Once families arrive here, they need assistance in all sorts of areas, be that applying for things like school places or universal credit or help with finding work.”

Volunteers were needed to help refugees fill in forms for bank accounts and assist with learning English.

“It is everything that will help to integrate them into society and have the basic things you or I might take for granted.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive