Ukraine war one year on: what happened to Ukrainian refugees in the UK since the conflict with Russia began

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced 8 million people to flee their homes and seek refuge across the rest of Europe. Here’s what happened to the thousands who moved to the UK.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

An estimated 8 million refugees have left Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion almost one year ago, and a further 5.9 million people have been displaced within the country.

Data published by the UN Refugee Agency sourced from Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also shows thousands of civilians have been caught in the crossfire. As of 14 February 2023, 7,199 civilian deaths have been recorded and 11,756 civilian casualties.

Civilian infrastructure has also been brutally targeted, with nearly 800 attacks on healthcare facilities and more than 2,500 on education facilities being reported. The UN reports there are 750 humanitarian organisations present in the war-torn country.

One year into the conflict and with no end in sight, we explain what has happened to the tens of thousands of refugees who now call the UK home.

Thousands of Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the UK since the start of the war.Thousands of Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the UK since the start of the war.
Thousands of Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the UK since the start of the war.

Where have Ukrainian refugees gone?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been gathering data on the movement of refugees out of Ukraine and into other countries in Europe and Asia since the start of the war. Its latest estimates put the number of refugees at approximately 8,047,000.

As of last October, more than 2.9 million Ukrainian refugees were registered in the Russian Federation – more than any other nation. More recent snapshots are available for other countries. Currently, Poland has the second largest number of refugees with 1.6 million (as of 7 February), followed by Germany with 1.1 million (as of 31 January). This interactive map shows how many Ukrainian refugees are reportedly in each country. The UN estimates the number of refugees in the UK at 158,800 – although internal UK data differs slightly.

Loading....

Thousands apply for UK visas

The UK’s initial response to the increasingly dire situation in Ukraine was criticised for being bureaucratic and slow. However, on 14 March 2022 the UK Government announced the Homes for Ukraine scheme which allowed households across the country the opportunity to open their doors to a Ukrainian family or individual for at least six months.

The sponsorship scheme resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees applying for UK visas to enter the UK. Home Office figures show Ukraininans have made almost 270,000 visa applications, as of 7 February 2023. Of these, 182,000 applications were made under the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, where refugees can be matched with sponsors in the UK, and a further 86,000 were made under the Ukraine Family Scheme, where refugees join family members already settled in the UK.

Almost 220,000 have been granted a UK visa since applications opened, while more than 8,000 have had their application refused. NationalWorld analysis shows 81.4% of applications resulted in a visa being issued, 11.1% were withdrawn, 3.1% were refused and 4.5% are still awaiting conclusion.

Since the schemes launched, 161,400 refugees have arrived in the UK.

A new life in the UK

Life has changed dramatically for the refugees who have arrived in the UK and survey data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) give some insight into what happened next to the Ukrainians who fled here.

Data collected from 17 October to 7 November 2022 shows most Ukrainian refugee adults (56%) have jobs in the UK – a 37 percentage point increase on June 2022’s figures when only 19% were reported to be working. Of the people working, 31% said they were in full-time employment, 18% in part-time employment and 7% were self-employed. Only 23% of people said they were out of work and actively looking for employment. The rest may have been retired, sick or disabled, students, homemakers, or on maternity or paternity leave.

Moving to the UK has come with its challenges. Half of respondents (50%) said they experienced difficulties taking up work – of these, 56% said their English language skills did not meet job requirements and 33% said their qualifications were not recognised or valid in the UK.

Loading....

As a result, the majority of employed refugees (65%) did not work in the same sector as they had in Ukraine. The ONS found there are significantly fewer visa holders currently working in financial services as well as in teaching and education in the UK. A much higher proportion of refugees are currently working in the hospitality industry than would have been in their home country.

Loading....

From a war zone to homelessness

Despite the initial successes of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, some accommodation arrangements have broken down or have not been available or suitable, resulting in thousands of Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless.

Figures published by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities show almost 4,300 households, including almost 3,000 with dependent children, were owed a homelessness prevention or relief duty as of 27 January, which come into place when a person is threatened with homelessness or is already homeless. The duty means a local authority has to help them find accommodation. Richmond upon Thames had the greatest number of homeless refugees with 135, followed by Wandsworth with 115 and Buckinghamshire with 102.

Loading....

Additional data published by the ONS follow-up survey found that almost half (45%) of all respondents surveyed experienced barriers to accessing private rented accommodation. The most common barrier was not having a guarantor or references (59% of those who experience barriers).

Calls for government to step up response to homelessness crisis

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ending Homelessness - a cross-party coalition of more than 70 MPs and their peers - called for more government action “to ensure that refugees could access a safe and secure home and did not have to face homelessness”.

A letter, with signatories including former Home Secretary Priti Patel, was sent to housing and homelessness minister Felicity Buchan. Itsaid financial support for refugees could be made more flexible and pointed to differences in the Homes for Ukraine Scheme – where people are sponsored by a UK household for six months – and the Ukraine Family Scheme, for those with family already settled in the UK.

The APPG said more than twice as many Ukrainians under the family scheme were at imminent risk of eviction than those under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. It also called on the Government to “learn lessons from recent humanitarian crises and bring forward a new strategy for refugee integration and resettlement, to allow for a better co-ordinated response in the future”.

In their letter, they stated that the most recent financial support package of £650 million, announced by the Government in December, is “very encouraging and continues the long and proud history of the UK providing a safe home to those who have been forced to flee due to conflict”.

But they added: “However, in the midst of the cost of living crisis, there are growing concerns that increasing numbers of Ukrainian arrivals are facing homelessness or destitution.”

“We believe no Ukrainian who has found refuge in the UK after fleeing the devastating conflict at home should experience homelessness and be left without a safe place to live here,” the group said.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has called for more housing. LGA chairman James Jamieson said Ukrainians are entering an already “logjammed system where we just do not have enough housing and every council has significant council house waiting lists”.

In December it was announced councils in England were getting a new £500 million fund to acquire housing stock for those fleeing conflict, including from Ukraine and Afghanistan. Jamieson said while positive, the fund needed to be built on.

“Longer term, the key thing is how do we get more housing. We’re very pleased with the £500 million scheme but actually, if we can build upon that, that would be very helpful to get more housing,” he said.

A Government spokesman said local authorities “have a legal duty to ensure no families are left without a roof over their heads”, and referred to Government help already in place to support councils with “more resources to help them address these challenges”.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.