Cruise ship Ukrainians say it's 'time to move on'

time:2023-05-29 14:14:35 source:Al Jazeera

When Andriy gathered his family together and fled the war in Ukraine with only what they could carry, the last place he thought he would end up was on a cruise ship.

But for the past five months, the MS Ambition, docked in Glasgow, has been home.

The unconventional accommodation has turned out to have provided the bridge into Scottish life that the families needed.

After six months, more than 1,000 Ukrainians, including 400 children, are preparing to go on the move again - this time to something more long term.

"It was very exciting during the first few weeks," Andriy told BBC Scotland. "I have three kids and we have two small cabins.

"The conditions are good and we are very grateful. We have everything we need for temporary accommodation.

"We have a job centre on the ship, the Scottish government and city council advise us how to integrate here.

"We also have English courses and on the ship we made our own community. There are people who like to sing together, it was like a small social experiment, a small community of Ukrainians.

"But on a ship, you are quite isolated from society."

Andriy, his wife Natalia, Maria aged 10, and twins Oleksiy and Polina, eight, have been part of a community onboard the MS Ambition.

But it was only ever going to be a temporary measure and the Scottish government announced this week that the ship's contract will end on 31 March.

The contract for a second ship, the MS Victoria I docked in Edinburgh, has however been extended by five months.

Andriy said: "We are very grateful for the people of Scotland welcoming us here and giving us the opportunity to bring our kids and families to a safe environment.

"There were rumours the contract would end in March so everyone expected that and at least now we have a deadline. There is uncertainty over what will happen next but Ukrainians are used to uncertainty and we will get through it somehow."

The family would love to go home. But with the war in Ukraine still volatile, and constant Russian attacks, that is not yet possible.

"There is no better place than home," said Andriy. " We understand we cannot go back to that immediately but I agree maybe it's time for another phase."

Andriy worked in HR for a tech company in Lviv. He has been job hunting and like many on the ship who have already got work, he wants to help himself too.

"We are not expecting something will just be given to us. We want to be employed and to earn and pay for our accommodation. I hope we will manage that."

Some have already moved on from MS Ambition, organising their own rented accommodation. Andriy has tried.

"It is quite challenging for us because we don't have any credit history here, we need a guarantor to co-sign a contract with you and I have no idea who that would be," he said.

"There is a bottleneck in the system, how to integrate, and we don't know how to overcome it."

The Scottish government is working with Glasgow City Council and other local authorities to get longer term accommodation arranged.

Volunteer hosting is still part of the plan.

The Scottish government's minister for Ukrainian refugees, Neil Gray, has urged potential hosts to come forward.

"There have been a number of people that have already moved on from the ships who have been matched into alternative accommodation by us, who have moved into social housing or their own private rented accommodation," he said.

"We expect that to continue.

"We have matching teams from the local authority and Scottish government on board the ship to look at what people's needs are to give them as much choice as possible and to present to them offers of accommodation from generous people opening up their homes across Scotland.

"That will be intensified now."

Andriy appreciates the generosity of such hosts and sees it as an opportunity to be part of a Scottish community.

"That is incredible," he said. "I can't imagine what kind of people they are and what kind of culture and kindness they have to do that.

"This is an opportunity to connect and learn the real culture, to learn English and to make friends."

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