Liverpool solicitor who opened her home to a Ukrainian refugee family says it’s the best thing she’s ever done
11 months ago
A Liverpool solicitor who opened her home to a family fleeing the war in Ukraine says it’s the most rewarding thing she’s ever done.
Nama Zarroug, a founding director of Astraea Linskills, signed up for the Government’s refugee sponsor scheme in March.
After overcoming two months of red tape, the mum, dad, their four-year-old son who has a congenital heart condition and a baby girl are safe with Nama’s family in Wavertree.
They were forced abandon their comfortable home in the country’s capital, and their own business, to escape the conflict, travelling well over 1,000 miles to northern Denmark with just two suitcases and a pram.
Now they are taking twice-weekly English lessons, alongside other refugee families with children, dad Viktor has a job, and son David will be starting school in September.
Nama says when she saw what was happening in Ukraine and heard about the Government’s scheme, she didn’t hesitate.
“Like a lot of people, I wasn’t aware that you could do this before and if I had been, I probably would have done it sooner with a family from Afghanistan or Syria,” she explains. “But when this scheme opened up, I knew it was something I wanted us to do.
“I didn’t need to know anything about who we would be hosting other than they were a family from Ukraine and they had to get out. That was my only requirement.”
Nama, her husband Vinnie, their six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son live in a Georgian townhouse so they were lucky to have the space to welcome another family independently. “The top floor has two bedrooms, a bathroom and a mini kitchen. I really wanted them to live as independently as possible, so they could feel like it was their own home.”
They also use one of two sitting rooms, which is where they have English lessons with a private tutor. The lessons, supported by Love Wavertree, are being part-funded by Nama’s Castle Street-based firm, which also paid for the family’s flights to Manchester and worked in conjunction with authorities to secure their safe passage.
“I discussed it with my fellow directors and we were unanimous in our desire to use our legal expertise to help in any way possible,” says Nama.
“As lawyers we’re very good at filling in forms and we deal with Government departments every day but we still found it incredibly challenging. The forms were in English, but there was no way you could fill them in as a Ukrainian unless you had amazing Wi-Fi and access to all the very sensitive and personal information about your hosts including passports.
“The vast majority of people accessing the scheme weren’t still in the Ukraine, they’d been dispersed to neighbouring countries, so their phones weren’t working properly and they had difficulty getting Wi-Fi, so it was impossible.
“Practically they were being completed by sponsor families as if they were Ukrainian. The baby of the family we’re hosting was only five months old at the time, she didn’t have a passport and her birth certificate was in Ukrainian so we didn’t even have an English spelling for her name.
“I had to come up with that using English letters, her name is Anna-Viktoria, which was actually a great honour for me.”
After hundreds of translated texts back and forth, the family – 42-year-old Viktor, Alona who’s 38, and their two children – finally landed at Manchester Airport on May 11.
“It must have been extremely frightening, to not speak the language and bring your children into a strange country and a stranger’s house.
“But Alona is a remarkable woman, and they are proud hard-working people. Once they got here, I signed them up for Universal Credit which they really didn’t want to do, but I explained they had to so they were in the system to access nursery places and health care.
“The Job Centre said because Viktor didn’t speak any English, that was a barrier to work and they’d review him in November. They were devastated by this news, so the same day he went out and found himself a job. He’s now working as a kitchen porter in Wavertree Town Hall who’ve been amazing.”
Nama says the family does still hope one day to go back to Kiev, but that’s increasingly a far-off dream.
“The two of them ran their own business, importing sheet metal for roller shutter industry, but if they went back there’s no work, no economy, no education for the children. All of those things are gone so returning is very much a long-term plan.”
In the meantime, she says their two families have become bonded – especially over a shared love of football!
“They are definitely Liverpool fans now, we got them onto that quite quickly,” she laughs. “The week they arrived was the last game of the season so we all watched it together, then we had the parade and we took them to that which they absolutely loved.
“One of the great things about football is all eight of us can sit around and watch and there’s no need for language. My children and their little boy are so close already, my son doesn’t even realise that David has no English, they just adore each other.”