'When the doors opened, it clicked' - couple on why they offered home for Ukraine

Paul Beastall and wife Tracy Hutchison have welcomed a Ukrainian family to their home in Cottenham

Paul Beastall and wife Tracy Hutchison have welcomed a Ukrainian family to their home in Cottenham as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme. From back, left: Paul, Tracy, Vitali and mother Viktoria. Front row: Anastasia and Eva, Viktoria's daughters. - Credit: Paul Beastall

Paul Beastall described the moment he and his wife knew they had made the right decision to offer their home as sanctuary for a Ukrainian family fleeing the war.   

“When the doors opened at the Eurostar terminal and a little girl walked out, it clicked,” said Paul.   

It was that moment that the decision made only weeks earlier to be part of the UK effort to support Ukraine felt 100 per cent the right choice.   

“We wanted to help on the basis that a family decided they would move 2,500 miles to move into a home with people they never met, which I think is terrifying for them,” he said.   

Although he has some reservations about the British visa scheme (they waited nearly three weeks for them to be issued) Mr Beastall believes it was well worth the effort.   

Paul Beastall and wife Tracy Hutchison applied to sponsor four Ukrainians to stay at their home on March 27 under the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme.   

On Easter Saturday, they welcomed their new Ukrainian friends at a London rail terminal.   

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“We’re in Cottenham,” he said. “The family-of-four are now in Cottenham. 

"The mum and her three children arrived at London St Pancras on the Eurostar.   

"We had found them online and we never met them before. We had a call over WhatsApp when they were still at their home in Ukraine.”  

Mr Beastall believes the visa system could be simplified and is in need of an overhaul but, for now, the Ukraine family are settling into village life.   

He said he and wife were motivated by seeing daily reports from Ukraine in the media.  

They recognised they were in a position to help.  

“We have adult children who have left home; one child has since moved back to Uni, so it was myself and my wife living at home,” he said. 

“We have a global duty to help people less fortunate than us.   

“The scheme gives us a chance to do something on a small scale to try and show people in Britain are open to helping the less fortunate.”  

Mr Beastall remains concerned that the visa application is difficult and “it has been a slog with the Home Office until confirmation on April 13 that they approved the visas. It took two-and-a-half weeks of no information. “  

But he says being able to help has been worth the effort.  

“The Ukraine family were very emotional,” he said.  

“This is a lady with three children who left her husband and parents behind because she wants her children’s education to continue and not damaged by war.   

“They are very dazed and confused at the moment, and their English is not great when they got here, but they were relieved and did what we can to make them feel comfortable.   

“The children went and played with the dogs when they arrived. They are very thankful and starting to get involved in the community.    

“These are people that need somewhere to live and it looks like this conflict will not be over in the next couple of weeks. Refugee camps in Poland are struggling and it’s a way we can help.   

“We just felt we could not sit back and watch it happen. 

“If your best option is to move 2,500 miles to live with people you have never met, I think it shows how dire the situation in Ukraine is.   

“We have common ground with them (the Ukrainian family) and share a lot of interests. It has gone so much better than we feared.   

“We thought this is something (welcoming a Ukrainian family) we could live to regret, but the family have been amazing.   

“The children are engaging, hardworking and fun.”  

And the mother has already been offered a part-time job locally.   

“These are people that had jobs back home and do not want to be reliant on benefits,” said Paul.  

Two of the children have got places at Cottenham Primary School “in school uniform donated by the school and people in the village, and they had a wonderful time.   

“They will start full-time at the school from next week.”  

The son is secondary school age and this week is visiting Cottenham Village College.  

Mr Beastall said: “They are smart kids, but the language barrier will mean it’s difficult to engage straight away, so schools will need to think about how to do that properly.”   

Of his fight for visas, he says that “as a host, you have to be prepared to push and chase because I think going at its own pace (without pushing government) is too much.    

“My message to political leaders is they are people whose lives are so bad and they have left people behind.   

“These are World War Two levels of migration and we need our politicians to remember that humanity is part of their role.”