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Story from a client in the Borough of Bromley.
“It was nice to be talked to like a human being.”
A client’s testimony:
When a lady came into one of our outlets this November she was extremely upset and in despair. She did not know where to turn so came to us.
As a single mum who had just moved into the area to stay safe, she had no family or friends locally. She had applied for her benefits to be transferred, and having been told there would be no problem was shocked to receive a letter saying all income benefits would be stopped. As a result, all her other means of support were being taken away, not only leaving her with nothing, but also the very real risk that she and her toddler son would be on the streets, homeless.
Two of our managers listened to her at length enabling her to feel better and reassuring her that she would be assisted by Foodbank to sort out the benefits situation as well as giving her an emergency supply of food. Her little boy was kept amused by others helping him do some colouring and by reading him stories.
After a long thirty minutes of waiting on the phone, she was finally put through to the benefits office who then promised to investigate further and ring back the same day. We made an appointment for her to go to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau the next day if it proved necessary and asked her to come back and let us know what had transpired.
Two days later she returned with this letter:-
Dear Foodbank team, I have to say a very big thank you to you all for helping me when I came in two days ago after Income Support had stopped all my benefit without warning and that this would potentially mean all my other benefits would be suspended. I truly appreciate all your concern and care towards myself and most importantly my son which helped a lot. It was nice to be sat down and to be talked to like a human by someone who only showed care, and it was very relieving.
I have now sorted out all my benefits. I got a call saying my claim had been reopened.
I have recommended and will surely recommend you to others in need. If I ever come across this I’m sure in future I definitely know where to turn to.
(Name given but not to be published for safety reasons.)
“Lots of people have helped us – they really have been unbelievably supportive – so this was my opportunity to do something in return,”
Ukrainian refugee gives back to her new community by volunteering at Bromley foodbank
A Ukrainian woman, forced to flee her country with young children, is a regular volunteer at the Bromley foodbank that supported her family when they first arrived here.
Kateryna, 32, came to the UK in April with her husband, two young daughters and stepson. They travelled via Poland and Germany to live with extended family in Orpington.
They came at short notice with very few possessions, having left behind their home and family business.
With no means to support themselves in the UK, Kateryna sought out the nearest branch of Bromley Borough Foodbank and received an emergency food parcel to help feed her young family.
On this first visit, Kateryna offered her services as a volunteer, just weeks after arriving in the UK. She saw it as a way to improve her English and give back to the community that has been so welcoming.
“Lots of people have helped us – they really have been unbelievably supportive – so this was my opportunity to do something in return,” she said.
Kateryna now works at the Foodbank once a week, helping to prepare food parcels for other families in need. Despite not having previous experience, she realised she could be of help after chatting to the centre managers. She began volunteering the following week.
Bromley Borough Foodbank is part of The Trussell Trust’s nationwide network of Foodbanks providing emergency food and support to people in crisis. It operates on a voucher scheme with referrals made by agencies including Citizens Advice and Jobcentre.
It has four foodbanks in Bromley – each one opens on a different day, providing food to those who need it and advice in relation to underlying issues, such as debt.
Almost every week since she started volunteering, other Ukrainian refugees have contacted the foodbank for support. Kateryna is able to act as an interpreter and is in a unique position to advise them having arrived in the UK so recently herself.
Rosemary Jordon co-manages the Wednesday foodbank in St Paul’s Cray with her husband, Roger. She said: “Kateryna is a great asset to the team. She makes people feel comfortable and helps us to communicate with other newly arrived Ukrainians. It’s welcoming support, especially for those who have experienced trauma. She’s always encouraging and very willing to help others, even after all that she has been through.”
Kateryna’s husband Oleg was permitted to travel to the UK with her and the children. Most Ukrainian men aged 18-60 are prevented from leaving the country, but there are exemptions for fathers with three or more children. Oleg also has a medical condition that prevents him from serving with the Ukrainian army.
The couple is from Brovary, a small town near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Before the outbreak of war they had recently bought a new home and were running their own cafe, now closed indefinitely.
Since their arrival, the family have been sleeping on the living room floor at Oleg’s brother’s home. They hope to be in a position to rent a place of their own soon. Oleg is a chef and has found work at a Chislehurst cafe.
As soon as the war ends, it is their intention to go back to Ukraine, although they have no idea when that might be. All three children have settled well in Bromley schools despite the language barrier.
The two girls are young enough to consider this as an adventure, whereas Kateryna’s stepson is a teenager and understands more about what is happening. He is still traumatised by their sudden departure and the perilous journey to the UK. It was unclear until they reached the border whether his father would be permitted to leave Ukraine.
“We try not to tell them too much but they have been faced with the hard reality of war. We are bringing them up to respect other cultures as this is likely to happen again,” Kateryna said.
The couple made the decision to flee on 6 March when Russian troops came within 1km of their home. It took over 12 hours to reach Poland on a packed-out train. They had just two backpacks of luggage between the five of them:
“There were people everywhere, piled high in the carriages and sitting all over the floor. We were in total darkness and had our phones turned off so that the Russians couldn’t track us.”
Kateryna is fearful for her 70-year-old father who remains at his home in Ukraine. “He has kidney problems and doesn’t speak any English so refused to come with us. I felt terrible leaving him but he couldn’t be persuaded.”
“Before we left, I couldn’t eat or sleep. Oleg was encouraging me to keep eating to remain strong for the children, but I physically couldn’t. I was too anxious. We could never have expected this living in the centre of Europe,” said Kateryna.
On the morning of the Russian invasion on 24 February, the family woke to the sound of bombing at 5 am. Afterwards, they spent every night sleeping on makeshift beds in the basement of their apartment block alongside their neighbours, including small children and newborn babies.
They were being told that the Russian army was in Ukraine to protect Russian speakers, although that makes no sense to Kateryna: “We are all bilingual. We understand and speak Russian fluently. That doesn’t mean that we want to be part of Russia.”
What troubles her most is the bombing of civilian targets including train stations and shopping centres. She is glued to the news every day and is afraid for the safety of friends and family who remain in Ukraine.
Despite helping to run the family business back home, Kateryna is not able to work at a managerial level in the UK because her English is not strong enough. The family are eligible for Universal Credit which means that they only had to resort to using the foodbank once when they first arrived in Orpington.
Kateryna feels a deep sadness about having to leave her country at a time when the standard of living for most Ukrainians was improving: “Before this war, our quality of life was getting better and better each year. We were becoming a digital nation, we had greater freedom to travel and we could become business owners.”
As much as they have been made to feel welcome in the UK, it has been traumatic to have their independence and livelihood stripped away. For now, she feels fortunate to have the family together and to be supported by their new community.