One year on: the experiences and expectations of a service provider supporting Ukrainian refugees

By Andrei Savitski - 24 February 2023

Andrei Savitski is a Service Provision Officer at the Work Rights Centre. Since the Russian military's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he has been assisting Ukrainian refugees who have sought safety in the UK. What follows are his own words, as he reflects on this experience. 

24 February 2022

The news on the morning of 24 February 2022 came as a bombshell for me, as it did for millions of people around the world with Ukrainian roots. I was devastated and can recall frantically messaging friends and family, all while following several channels to stay up-to-date on developments. At the time, I had just finished an internship with a think tank (the day before!) and was ready to look for work in my field of economic development. These plans were set aside, as the Work Rights Centre swiftly offered me a full-time service provision role, in anticipation of the humanitarian crisis that would soon ensue. I had to take it. 

In this piece, I reflect on the challenges and successes of the year that followed, as well as my view on what we can expect in the year to come.

Nothing short of challenging

The past year was nothing short of challenging. In the first 2-3 months of the war my phone was ringing several times per day, and our inbox kept popping with new notifications. In addition to having to ramp up capacity, it was difficult to provide accurate advice in light of endlessly changing immigration rules and no well-oiled systems on the ground to support Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK. 

A particularly difficult challenge was meeting the complex needs of the refugees themselves, which ranged from immigration to mental health concerns. We had to quickly become literate in the basics of fields that we hadn’t previously specialised in. It wasn't uncommon for a client to come to us with an immigration issue but then open up about the imminent risk of homelessness, as well as problems with their Universal Credit claim. And, while we had worked on demanding cases in the past, this level of frequency and diversity was new to us.

Adapt and advocate

By mid-summer, we were much more comfortably navigating the rocky waters of service provision. It helped that, by then, government policies for Ukrainians were clearer and, generally, accessible. This allowed us to do our own work better, both within the charity and in a collaborative manner with other organisations. For instance, we engaged in multiple outreach efforts alongside partner charities and councils, such as at the Ukrainian Welcome Centre and a weekly hub at Wood Green Library. 

However, the government's policies themselves left many Ukrainians confronted with the issues of homelessness, visa delays and immigration status limbo. Building on experience and client data, the Work Rights Centre became increasingly vocal through media channels and research outputs in an attempt to change policy for the better. Our September publication on the risks of homelessness for Ukrainian refugees is a good example of this.

More uncertainty ahead

Our work is far from over. Questions remain about what lies ahead, which is largely dependent on developments on the ground in Ukraine, but certain issues are likely to persist regardless:  

  • What will happen to Ukrainians in the UK after the expiry of their three-year permission to stay under the Ukraine schemes? 
  • How will the Home Office decide visa applications by undocumented Ukrainians in the UK, as well as other individuals otherwise ineligible for status under the Ukraine Schemes, yet also directly affected by the war in Ukraine?
  • How effective will the extra support the UK government has announced for local authorities be in alleviating the pressures they have faced, in managing the arrival of tens of thousands of Ukrainians to the UK over the past year?

These questions are some of those we continue to ask ourselves as we hit the one-year mark since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Unfortunately, these uncertainties, amongst others, have created a breeding ground for exploitation and poor advice. Rogue consultants and self-proclaimed "lawyers", who have plagued the Ukrainian community for years, have preyed on recent arrivals. This underscores the need for transparent and accessible information for Ukrainians and renders the Work Rights Centre's mission as important as ever. 

We do not have a crystal ball that could prepare us for what is to come. Neither can we have a direct impact on the outcome of the war in Ukraine. What we can do is learn from the past year's challenges and continue doing what we do best - advising and supporting Ukrainians in the UK and abroad, working together with our partners, and doing our best to advocate for humane policies for Ukrainians in the country - all while adapting to the unexpected but impending changes that lie ahead. 

To support the Work Rights Centre, please consider making a donation. To stay up to date with our work, please subscribe to our newsletter

← News