Ukrainian mom, kids in 'critical' need of host family in London after mix-up

A Ukrainian mother and her two kids who just arrived in Canada after fleeing war at home are desperate for a place to stay in London as time runs out at their temporary lodging.

"The situation is actually quite critical, not only for this family but for others who keep coming here to Canada," said Svitlana Stoiko-Hota, a lead volunteer with Ukraine Help Middlesex, a London-area group that helps match Ukrainian refugees with willing area hosts.

"We face one huge problem: No hosting families," she said.

The mother and kids, ages 14 and 12, arrived in Canada last weekend and are staying at a hotel in Toronto provided by the Canadian Red Cross. The charity has already extended their stay to 14 days, but after a misunderstanding with a potential host, they'll need somewhere to go by the end of next week, Stoiko-Hota said.

"There was some kind of miscommunication due to a lack of English. Neither the host nor the newcomers had any evil intentions; it just happened that they didn't understand each other," she explained.

The non-English-speaking family, who doesn't want personal details, such as their names, being published, are described as open-minded, humble and friendly. Both teens are athletes hoping to pursue opportunities in their respective sports, the boy in trampoline jumping and the girl in gymnastics, Stoiko-Hota said.

"They prefer to stay in London because they were told there were some good athletic schools here, so they would prefer to stay here," she said.

Since putting a call out for hosts on the group's Facebook page, Stoiko-Hota said the family had received three offers, but they're all outside the city. "It makes it impossible for them to commute," she said.

Stoiko-Hota said that's often the case with requests. People rarely volunteer to help, and when they do, they live in smaller, rural centres, making it difficult for Ukrainian families to commute and access jobs and resources such as English lessons.

With more and more families seeking refuge in Canada, volunteers say the demand for accommodations will only grow.

"The only solution now would be for any newcomer family to start renting the apartment," Stoiko-Hota said.

But even that comes with a slew of problems, she added. "Rentals are crazy and absolutely unaffordable for Ukrainian newcomers. And renting an apartment or a house without any prior credit history is also next to impossible."

Nearly eight million Ukrainians have fled the country since Russia launched its unprovoked war in late February. More than 100,000 of them have arrived in Canada, which has received more than 600,000 applications from Ukrainians for temporary residency and approved about 400,000, according to the latest statistics from the federal government.

About 150 families have arrived in the London region, said Richard Hone of Ukraine Help Middlesex, who receives between four and five requests daily for hosts for newcomers.

"We've maybe had about 100 to 120 people who've stepped up, so that's shocking," he said, questioning why the number is so small in a city of close to half a million people.

Stoiko-Hota and her 10-year-old son arrived in London in June, her husband and mother still in Ukraine. She said she's hopeful Londoners will open their homes to those in need, recalling a message she heard over the radio on Remembrance Day.

"The (person) said a very important thing: 'We don't even realize how many blessings we have, so why not share?' " she said.

"This would be my message to (any) potential host."

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press