Ukraine crisis: In Belgium charity begins at home

UKRAINE CRISIS Charity in Belgium First night with the Ukrainian family
Charity in Belgium First night with the Ukrainian family

In our latest Ukraine crisis arfticle Together publisher David Mc Gowan answers his commune’s call to host Ukrainian families.

Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, on 24 February 2022, marked a steep escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War which had begun in 2014. The invasion has caused Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II, and more than 14 million Ukrainians have left their homeland, according to the United Nations. More than six million have left for neighbouring countries, while eight million people are displaced inside the war-torn country itself.

Some 35,000 of them have now been registered in Belgium, according to Belgian newspaper Le Soir – with the country able to house as many as 200,000 Ukrainians.

Host families in Belgium will receive police checks for security reasons and then need to be able to offer up to six months’ accommodation. In return, they will receive some money towards food and board. Information sessions are provided by each host commune – such as Hoeilaart, just outside of Brussels in Flanders, where the Together offices and publisher David Mc Gowan is based. Take up and interest to help the displaced Urkainians – mostly women and children as the men are fighting for their homeland – has been high.

We asked David why he wanted to volunteer to be a host family and how the experience has been for him, his wife and their three children.

Together: What made you decide to take on refugees?
David: ‘What’s the point in living if you are not helping?’ is one of our mottos as a couple.

So when the war broke out, we heard that there were Ukrainian families coming over who would be looking for homes. So we decided to put our name down at the commune to be able to welcome a family. The next day we got a call saying there was a family of five on their way over and could we host them.
Who are the people you invited to live with you?
The grandmother Angela (49), the daughter Katryna (29) and her three children Matheeuw (5), Ana (3) and David (1).

UKRAINE CRISIS Charity in Belgium David’s daughter Kyna with little David
Charity in Belgium David’s daughter Kyna with little David 

How have they settled into their new country, especially mentally?
They are adorable people, and have found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that they might not be going home for a few years. They always have the hope to be able to go back home very soon.

And what have you and your family gained from their arrival?
We gained new friends for life, and a realisation that the war is not always very far away, and could also knock on our door. The reality of war and how it can completely change innocent people’s lives is shocking. It’s a reminder of the importance of peace.

Do you see this as a long-term thing or is there simply no limit?
After seven weeks staying with us, and after they were able to get their papers in order, our Ukrainian family could get themselves an apartment in Brussels and have moved out.

The challenge of a new language is not easy, how are they progressing?
The daughter was able to speak English and is now learning French.

And how is your Ukrainian coming along? 🙂
‘Dyakuyu’ means thank you. But it’s a very complicated language for us. As there are almost no similarities.

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