A couple who fled Ukraine for Britain are planning to move back to the war-torn country because of the spiralling costs of life in the UK. Joe Place, 29, and his wife, 34-year-old Irina, fled Kyiv in February to escape conflict and headed to Joe’s hometown of Sheffield, Yorkshire.
But Joe, a PhD student and content writer, soon realised conditions in the UK weren’t ideal as the couple were met with “terrible” housing and high costs. Irina, who received a Ukraine Family Scheme visa, struggled with her husband for seven months to make life in the UK work – before they both gave up and decided to go back to a country that is actively at war.
Joe said: “This comes to the problem that everyone in the UK seems to be facing with finding (a rental).
“We doubled our budget and more … we had a very strict list of requirements and we just kept going, ‘OK, well, compromise on this, compromise on this, compromise on this’.
“Anything we got even remotely close to getting was just terrible.”
The couple had arrived in Western Ukraine for a short visit to see family in September, but decided to stay as a result of the UK housing issues they faced.
“We realised we actually quite like it back here, and we’re OK,” Joe continued: “We wouldn’t want to live back in Kyiv right now because it’s not safe, but where we are it is very safe, mostly anyway.”
Joe said because Russia has been hitting Ukrainian infrastructure with missile strikes, they are prepared for electricity and heating outages.
He added: “They’re trying to get people to get prepared that you might lose the electricity and heating for a bit. That is something that is going to affect all of us, and that’s going to be difficult”
The couple, who met while they were both teaching English in Ukraine in 2019, will continue to go “back and forth” to the UK to see friends and family and for Joe’s work – but the majority of this he is doing remotely in Ukraine.
Joe said it would cost them up to £1,500 a month to rent in the UK, compared with £500 in Ukraine, and housing agencies and landlords were asking for a previous year’s tax statement or six months of income in a UK bank account, which they could not provide.
He said money the couple already had in their Ukrainian bank accounts was not accepted and landlords had been repeatedly turning down their applications.
Joe continued: “(£500 is) kind of expensive here (in Ukraine). The west of Ukraine, where it’s safer, the house prices have gone up quite a lot and the rents have gone up – a lot of the locals struggle.
“But obviously for us coming from the UK … this is still really affordable.”
Irina entered the UK on a Ukraine Family Scheme visa but said she did not receive the same amount of support from the government as those on the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Joe added: “It’s been incredible (the Homes for Ukraine scheme)… I hope we continue this approach for other crises.
“But I do think there was a bit more support for that scheme. With the family scheme there is a presumption that you will just stay with a spouse or child or people already settled here.
“No, we’ve just uprooted our entire lives to come to the UK, we could also do with some help.”
Joe said there is a “possibility” he and his wife will decide to return to the UK next spring, but they do not want to plan far ahead because of the war.
“For now we are quite happy being here,” he added.
A government spokesperson said: “Taken together, our generous Homes for Ukraine and Ukraine Family schemes are one of the fastest and biggest visa programmes in UK history, with over 196,000 visas issued and more expected to come through these uncapped routes.
“We expect Ukrainians entering the UK through the Ukraine Family Scheme to be primarily supported by family members, but they are also entitled to three years’ leave to remain and full access to work, study and benefits — including Universal Credit.
“Local authorities have a duty to provide support to people on the family scheme, including homelessness where required.”