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Displaced: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps Explains Decision To Take Ukrainian Family Into His Home

Tom Wood

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Displaced: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps Explains Decision To Take Ukrainian Family Into His Home

Featured Image Credit: Grant Shapps

On 24 February 2022, Vladimir Putin ordered Russia's military machine over the border into Ukraine sovereign territory, declaring a 'special military operation' was underway.

From that moment onwards, the entire global geo-political landscape was irrevocably changed.

Whilst the rest of the world watched on aghast, bombs and shells rained down on Ukrainian cities, putting the lives of ordinary citizens in danger.

The response of the Ukrainian people has been nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Against a vastly better-equipped military force, they have stood firm.

Against seemingly bottomless resource, they have defended every inch of ground.

However, there has been a significant human cost.

As the death toll has risen, so too has the number of refugees fleeing the violence.

Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries such as Poland. Credit: Alamy
Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries such as Poland. Credit: Alamy

Countries across the world have thrown open their borders, in many cases waiving visas for those fleeing the conflict.

Whilst the UK has taken a different and more controversial tactic of implementing a visa system for those fleeing, meaning that the UK will likely take less people in the long run, the response from the British public has been overwhelming.

So far, well over 150,000 people and organisations have signed up to sponsor Ukrainian families, offering out their spare rooms and unused properties to those fleeing the conflict.

Amongst them was the UK's Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and his family.

Shapps, who was catapulted into the public consciousness for his role in the government's daily Covid-19 updates throughout lockdown, was one of several high-profile figures to state he would be actively seeking to open his family home to a Ukrainian family.

Speaking exclusively to LADbible, he explained how he and his family came to the decision.

The scale of the refugee crisis is unprecedented in recent times in Europe. Credit: Alamy
The scale of the refugee crisis is unprecedented in recent times in Europe. Credit: Alamy

He explained: "Just watching it unfold on the TV screen and on social media, you can't believe that it's happening in the 21st century and not far from us.

"You tend to look at these things and think 'I wish that there was something I could do'.

"Obviously as a cabinet minister there are things I could do and have been doing - ban Russian aircraft from our airspace and ban Russian ships from our ports - but my wife and I talked about it from the beginning and wanted to do something else a bit more direct, even though you're only helping one family."

The desire to help is clearly important to Shapps, who claims that there are reasons above and beyond simple humanity for offering out help to those fleeing war and persecution.

He continued: "A small part of what has driven us is that my great-grandparents and my wife's were both from that part of the world.

"Not Ukraine necessarily but Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, as you go back.

"They were chased out of that part of Europe by pogroms.

"So, there was a feeling of connection to what was happening."

Grant Shapps with his wife Belinda and their three children. Credit: Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps with his wife Belinda and their three children. Credit: Grant Shapps

Of course, the act of opening up a home to a family of people who have experienced war and displacement is a huge decision, but one that Shapps and his wife Belinda arrived at quickly and unanimously.

"She was the one who suggested it. I'd been thinking it and - as often happens - one of us said something that the other one had been thinking," he said.

"We went for a long walk and discussed it. Our daughter has exams, our son - whose room they'd be having - is coming back from studying at uni.

"What would it be like having people in the house? What if they've got pets?

"Every single time we discussed it we came back to 'but look what's happening to them'.

"We're talking about inconveniences around the margins of life, they're talking about life itself.

"It doesn't matter whatever you think might be the marginal difference it will make or inconveniences and minor hardships are but a nothing by comparison to the way that these people are being chased out and bombed out of their homes and worse - killed."

Shapps speaking at this week's Conservative Party spring conference in Blackpool. Credit: Alamy
Shapps speaking at this week's Conservative Party spring conference in Blackpool. Credit: Alamy

"On every level, it became clearer and clearer to us, and we've known for the last couple of weeks and by last weekend we were certain about it."

Unlike the thousands of other households offering their home to Ukrainian women and children, Shapps was amongst the few who would have been privy to the situation of Ukraine from his position within government.

Understanding at a minute level what was transpiring across Europe may have given him - and by extension his family - a greater perspective on the need to get involved.

He explained: "I've been going to emergency committee meetings since the early days of this, we thought it was going to happen, and had quite a keen sense of what might happen.

"Having said that, anyone who sees this unfolding can see it, right?

"You don't have to have any special privileged knowledge, and that's why British families have come forward to say they'd like to do something.

"I think the size and scale of the response has taken everyone by surprise."

The UK's scheme has attracted significant criticism for requiring those fleeing war to be granted a visa, whereas other countries have simply waived visas and processed refugees upon arrival.

So far under the Ukraine Family Scheme for refugees with relatives in the UK, there have been 77,800 visa applications opened and 38,000 submitted to the Home Office.

In total - as of March 28 - 22,100 visas have been issued.

In context, estimates suggest 10 million people have left Ukraine since the conflict started.

Poland has taken in at least 2,314,623 refugees, Romania 602,461, Moldova 385,222 and Hungary 395,197.

Boris Johnson has defended the UK's visa system against criticism. Credit: Alamy
Boris Johnson has defended the UK's visa system against criticism. Credit: Alamy

The EU has granted all Ukrainians a blanket right to stay and work for three years, as well as social welfare, access to housing, medical treatment, and schools.

The UK government has faced criticism - on occasion from within the Conservative Party - on their decision to implement the visa sponsorship scheme, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson defending the system, stating: "People want us to be generous but also careful."

Obviously, there are potential security concerns and safeguarding risks on both sides, but many claim that the UK could have been more forthcoming with welcoming refugees and made the process much simpler and freer of bureaucracy, including suggestions that visas could be waived altogether to ease the process for Ukrainians in possession of a valid passport.

Shapps points out how his family were able to use social media and modern methods to find families that they could potentially take into their home.

"I can see how this might have been really difficult in previous decades, but one thing we've got here is that people have social media footprints, and you can see on their Facebook page or Instagram that they have genuine lives that stretch back years - in this case - in Kyiv," he said.

"They couldn't have been posting about the birth of their child or whatever and made that up today, so you know it's a genuine story.

"As with all of these things you can't be absolutely sure, but I think it's a moment for humanity to come to the fore, and I suppose there's a limited level of risk, but I think it's one that's well worth taking."

The decision to take in a family of complete strangers who are fleeing a potentially traumatising conflict and unsure as to when - if ever - they might be able to return to their home is a noble one, but not one without risk or the potential for serious consequences.

The response from ordinary people has been remarkable, but the end result and success of the sponsorship scheme remains in the balance.

It can be hoped that those who arrive in the UK from Ukraine are able to do so without issue, but never guaranteed.

When the issue is consider in totality, no solution would ever have been perfect and without problems, but the most important thing is that those who were previously in danger will be removed from those situations.

The decision is 'life and death' for those fleeing the war in Ukraine. Credit: Alamy
The decision is 'life and death' for those fleeing the war in Ukraine. Credit: Alamy

Shapps maintains that whilst the decision to invite strangers into their home was not the biggest decision his family has ever made, it is certainly one of the most important, and represented the choice between 'life and death' for those escaping Ukraine.

"I am in absolutely no doubt that this is the right thing to do," he concluded.

"Myself, my wife, my three kids, we're absolutely certain and in no doubt at all.

"The fact that so many other people are doing it as well is reassuring and shows that it's not anything hugely unique that we're proposing to do.

"For us, it's a sort of mid-range thing - of course it's a big deal but it's not the biggest deal - but for those who are coming to the UK it's a matter of life or death, and a huge deal.

"We're not having to go anywhere, we're not having to uproot, we're not worrying whether our homes are being bombed or whether our partners are being killed in a war, or whether our child is going to be able to get educated.

"The one thing that is for certain is that whatever it is for us, for them it's absolutely huge, and we'll be keeping that front and centre in our minds."

If you are interested in signing up to the Homes for Ukraine scheme and opening your home to those escaping the conflict, you can find more information here.

Topics: UK News, Ukraine, Politics, Russia

Tom Wood
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