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Volunteers helping Ukrainian families settle in France

A British-run association in western France has been providing housing for Ukrainian families and is selling cookbooks and Christmas cards to raise funds

Volunteers pose with Ukrainian families Pic: Hayley Gilks

A British-run association has helped 30 Ukrainian refugees settle in France. 

Hayley Gilks created Mayenne53 Ukraine Assistance after attending a friend’s wedding, where she got to know the Ukrainian bride’s friends and family. 

After the Russian invasion, her friend and his wife managed to get her close family to France and Ms Gilks was prompted to act after hearing horrific stories from these new arrivals. 

“An association in Brittany was sending aid to Ukraine and we thought if they were sending a vehicle, we could send a minibus and bring people back.” 

Following another trip to pick up refugees from Germany, volunteers welcomed around 12 families in north west Mayenne. 

Many stayed with host families, while some second-home owners provided their holiday accommodation. 

Read more: ‘We have space, time’: Why we are hosting Ukrainians at our French home

Read more: How do I host Ukrainians in France without breaking declaration rules

Communicating easier with English host families

“Plenty of people volunteered to be hosts, both French and English, but once I understood the language was much easier if they had English host families, I prioritised that. 

“For the first couple of months, they received no asylum allowance, so the association paid for everything. 

We managed to buy some cars for them to give them some independence.” 

The oldest refugee was born in 1953, while the youngest was born in Fougères hospital, as the mother had travelled to France while eight months pregnant. 

Ms Gilks struck up a particularly close bond with the young mother. 

“We arrived 17 years ago, and two years later I found myself pregnant in France without family support. 

It is very difficult when you can’t speak the language very well.” 

Most of the families have now moved into independent accommodation: two in private rentals, and the local town halls in Fougerolles-du-Plessis and Buais provided free short-term housing. 

The association helps the refugees to apply for housing aid. 

The association is now aiming to help the remaining families move into their own accommodation, while supporting the others with their housing expenses. 

Read more: Six websites to help you support Ukrainian refugees in France

To raise money, the volunteers plan to attend local Christmas markets. 

“The women are helping us to craft things, and we will have Ukrainian Christmas cards painted by one of our ladies.” 

The initiative has not been met with unanimous support, however. 

A local supermarket pulled the plug on its donation trolleys after receiving complaints and a sign for the donation centre was defaced with an SS logo. 

You can donate or purchase a Ukrainian (PDF) cookbook here.

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