For Juliet Stevenson it was a no-brainer. With her two grown- up children away at university, Juliet had two bedrooms going spare and so, like thousands of us wanting to do our bit to help Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion, Juliet and her anthropologist husband Hugh Brody decided to welcome refugees into their home.
A few weeks ago, a 30-year-old mother from Kyiv and her six-year-old daughter moved in. To protect their privacy, the identity of mother and daughter hasn’t been revealed but how did she find them?
“Like so many in Britain, we signed up to the government scheme but that isn’t how they’ve come to be here with us,” Juliet explains. “I have a very good friend from Belarus who runs a theatre company here – she’s in exile because Belarus is a dictatorship. She called me to say she had friends and colleagues from the Ukraine whom she was trying to help. One of these people was a young Ukrainian video artist who happened to be in London working with her. He dashed back to Ukraine, to get his wife and young daughter out. They had an awful journey into Romania in order to get out in time and they are now our guests. The husband, of course, has stayed behind to fight.”
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"I had to open my home"
His wife must be worried sick? “Totally,” Juliet agrees. “Whereas I check my phone to see if I’ve got any emails, she checks hers to find out if her husband is still alive. It is such a reality check!
“In addition to worrying about her husband, her parents and parents-in- law, and her brother, sister-in-law and family are still in Kyiv. So, there’s a great deal of concern about them, too. You can imagine the level of anxiety. This woman is only 30 and she’s having to deal with all this fear while also keeping things on a calm and even keel for her little girl. She’s doing an absolutely brilliant job at that.”
Juliet and Hugh have given their guests the run of their home and garden.
“We’re so happy to be able to do that for them,” Juliet goes on.
“I’ve brought up all my son and daughter’s old toys from the cellar for the little girl to play with. We eat together. Hugh is the cook in our house. He also has a link to Ukraine. While he was born and brought up in Sheffield, his parents were Jewish refugees – his father was born in a town in Ukraine.”
As time goes on and they have fully settled in, her guests, Juliet envisages, will become more independent. “We’ve now been out to local shops and markets so she will know where to go,” Juliet reveals. “The idea is to get them up and running, and support and cook for them while they’re settling in.”
Juliet also tells how her local north London community has been wonderfully supportive.“There’ll be a knock at the door and people will leave toys for the little girl. A young primary school teacher lives over the road and she’s going to come twice a week to teach the little girl English. We get home-made cakes left on the doorstep.
“We Brits are so good at pulling together in communities, I think. It’s one of the best things that we, as a nation, do. Hugh and I have support from our community and now so do our guests. I would advise anyone who opens their home to a Ukrainian family to call on their friends and neighbours to get involved too. I’m going away to Wales to film a new TV series soon and I know there will be many doors in our street that the young woman can knock on for help and support.”
Juliet (65) has no idea how long she will have her house guests. “It’s impossible to say. There is no time limit. I’m already very fond of our visitors and the young mum is incredibly sensitive that she’s in somebody else’s house but, of course, we’re all hoping they will be able to return home as soon as they possibly can. They’re just desperate to get back – as we all would be in their position.”
With regards to the immediate future, what will happen once Juliet’s daughter Rosalind (27) and son Gabriel (21) return for the Easter holidays?
“We’ll just have to muddle through,” she says resolutely.
“I talked to the kids before the refugees arrived to tell them what we were doing and they were absolutely fine with it. They know how privileged they are. We all do. Having our visitors to stay and hearing about what they’ve been through – and still going through – has really brought that home.”
Juliet is currently working on a campaign with the Together with Refugees organisation in a bid to stop the Nationality and Borders Bill becoming law, which would include a proposal to treat refugees differently based on how they come to the UK rather than their need for protection.
“Please write to your MP to make sure they’re protesting against this bill,” she urges. “I feel that we’ve got to show the government how the public feels about this issue and how it’s out of step with the feelings of British people.”
To find out more about the campaign visit togetherwithrefugees.org.uk