04:10PM, Thursday 26 May 2022
Ukrainian Ludmilla Myshchenko, who lives with Hugh Steed (left), has picked up a bike donated by Open Arms, a charity set up by Rabbi Jonathan Romain (right) to help hosts and refugees settle.
A Maidenhead couple sponsoring a Ukrainian family have said it is rewarding to play their part in the war relief effort as hundreds more refugees are expected in the borough over the coming weeks.
Hugh and Claire Steed, who live in Switchback Road, have taken in Ludmilla Myshchenko and her two children Myroslava Demchenko, 14, and Mykhailo Demchenko, 10.
She arrived into Luton Airport a month ago from Harkiv, but her husband has remained in Ukraine, where he works as a volunteer to help deliver food and medicine.
Ludmilla is attending English classes at Windsor College and has been offered a job at clothes store Goyals, in Bridge Street.
Her two children have also started school.
To help Ludmilla get around town and gain some independence, she collected a bicycle from Maidenhead Synagogue rabbi Jonathan Romain yesterday (Wednesday).
Rabbi Romain has been a key player in helping Ukrainians settle in the Royal Borough and has set up a support website – Open Arms – to help hosts and their guests integrate.
He said: “At first we were told do not expect many [refugees] in Maidenhead because they prefer the big cities, but actually we have got quite a lot coming over so it is all hands on deck.
“We are expecting 137 over the next couple of weeks.”
Rabbi Romain, who is expecting to host refugees himself in the coming days, added: “Particularly in the Maidenhead area, unless you are near the town centre it is pretty hard to get around.
“So bikes are just a very simple thing which make a world of difference, whether that is kids getting to schools or adults to job interviews. It opens a whole new world to them. A very kind lady rang me up and said she had a couple spare and I knew exactly who to give it to.
“This is part of a general pattern of just giving people mobility and independence.”
Hugh and Claire said they signed up to host a Ukrainian family as soon as possible and added they are relieved to be assisting in the national war relief effort.
“They are a lovely addition to the house. Ludmilla teaches yoga and has been teaching me some as well. It is lovely having them here,” said Claire.
“We saw the situation unfolding in Ukraine and signed up [to be hosts] straight away. It is one of those things that everybody feels powerless about, so by offering our home, at least we are doing something positive.
“I remember picking them up from the airport and just being really glad they are safe.”
Hugh was brought up during a tough political time in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and was forced to flee his country to America during the troubles.
“It is nothing compared to what they are experiencing, but it is that experience of living somewhere so unpredictable and dangerous,” he said.
“There are times when we are having a really nice day with a barbecue, and Ludmilla would get some really bad news from home. It is a real juxtaposition for her emotionally between her happy she is here, but also her family and friends still being in Ukraine. The main thing for her is that she and her children are safe.”
For more information on Open Arms, visit www.openarms.charity
All lines are currently blocked between Reading and London Paddington stations due to a person being hit by a train.