With the hostile Russian invasion of Ukraine blazing on, and more and more families fleeing the conflict, Trafford is opening its homes and helping refugees to put the pieces back together.

Trafford is hosting more refugees than anywhere else in Greater Manchester, with 199 visas issued for the borough through the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme by May 3.

Andy Gilbride and his wife Grazyna, both 56, are hosting six Ukrainian refugees in their  home in Timperley and previously offered their North Wales home to Syrian refugees.

The pair have two grown up daughters who live in places of their own now, and one of them is also hosting a refugee family.

Andy’s refugees arrived just days ago on Sunday May 1, and it’s been a long road to get them here safely after they fled Lviv in Western Ukraine, via Krakow in Poland.

They are made up of two mothers, each with a son and daughter in tow.

Oleana is 38, her son Artem is 17 and her daughter Milana is nine.

Gilana is also 38, her daughter Christina is 18 and her son Boris is 11.

Oleana’s little girl Milana, just nine years old, stopped talking after the war started and had not spoken for almost five weeks.

And Milana’s 17-year-old brother, Artem, was almost left behind after the Ukrainian government issued a ruling that all men must stay in the country to fight. He is still traumatised and doesn’t want to be around people.

Andy said: “At first [the family] were worried about getting all six of them over. “They said originally the 17-year-old boy might have to stay behind – because ‘he’d lived longer than his sister’ and the rule about fighting men. And the little girl didn’t speak. One day is like life or death for them, and at that point we were on day 29 or something. She’s so sweet, she even bought a squeaky rubber chicken on her journey through Europe for our dog, Owen.

“I said to them, just wait until she gets here, she’ll start talking as soon as she sees the dog.”

Trafford is expecting to welcome as many as 1,000 refugees fleeing the conflict and Andy and his family have a very personal reason for wanting to host a family here in Trafford.

Andy’s wife’s mother was once a refugee herself.

Andy said: “My wife’s mother was Polish and in WW2 when the Russian’s came in, they killed her father, killed the young sons, put the four little girls on a sledge with their mother and sent them off as refugees. Her mum only survived because of someone’s help. She was taken in in India eventually and lived there for the last four years of the war. That’s why we’re doing this. I wouldn’t have my wife if that hadn’t have happened.

“On day one of the Russian invasion, I was lying in bed with covid, watching the Russian advance on my computer. So I thought, what can I do. I started searching for people on Facebook, finding Ukrainians, commenting on their posts, offering a place for women and children and it spread like a tree, all through word of mouth.”

Andy said Trafford council has been rigorous in checking his family can provide a safe haven for the fleeing Ukrainians.

He said: “There were a lot of checks, especially for hosting kids. They visited around three or four times, checking our passports, our fire alarms, electrics, fire doors…making sure it was all safe.”

The council gives host families £350 per month to help look after refugees, which is flat rate per household. Refugee families can also get a one-off £200 in food voucher per family as well; which can maybe be £200 each, dependent on available funding, Andy explained.

The children can go to school, the adults can work and are expected to pay taxes and they can all get registered with doctors and dentists.

Andy said: “It’s just like they’ve come from the EU, like when we were still in it.”

Once their visas are approved, Ukrainian refugees get a six-month visa, but if they go to Manchester Library for a three hour appointment where they have photos taken of their eyes and finger prints, they can get a biometric visa application submitted.

If this is successful, that gives them a three-year, unlimited visa and they can apply for residency during that time if they want to.

Andy added: “Britain‘s been brilliant, but they were a bit slow on the visa scheme. At the start we were waiting six weeks for visa approval, I’ve heard now it can be down to three days.”

The family Andy and his wife are currently hosting arrived at Manchester airport on Sunday May 1. Andy is helping the mothers look for jobs and for the children to find school places.

Andy said: “They’re getting settled and they’re settling in brilliantly. Gilana had a job interview this week. The little girl is talking again. The 17-year-old boy doesn’t want to be around people just yet, he’s still quite traumatised, but he’ll get there.

“We’re very privileged and they can see we’re just nice people. My only worry was feeding them at first. I asked clients for donations, but was made to feel like I was begging. But my daughter’s getting married next year and we’ve got a pot of money sitting there for that. She knows we’re just dipping into that now.

“We’ve got a year, if it comes round to it and we don’t have enough for the wedding, we’ll just take out a loan, I don’t care.”

None of this would be possible, Andy added, without the generous support of his good friend Trevor Kells and his company Rich Sauces who have been sending Andy money to help feed Ukrainian refugees already here in the UK, as well as forwarding money to those in need back in Ukraine and making their way through Europe.

Andy and his wife have sponsored a multitude of visa applications to date, supporting refugees in their bid to get into the UK faster to flee the conflict.

They are in regular contact with other families still over there and hope to continue to help more families in the future.

If you would like more information of how to become a host for a refugee family or other ways of helping, click here (https://www.traffordhubs.org/ukraine).