A LONDON-IRISH family who invited Ukrainian refugees into their home when the war first broke out have now extended their welcome further by fostering their daughter.
David O’Brien, who hails from Glanmire in Co. Cork but has been living in the capital for 32 years, was eager to help when war erupted in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion on February 24, 2022.
In May 2022, Mr O’Brien, his wife Isobel and their twins Daisy and Colum were delighted to give Nataliia Shuhailo and her two daughters Yuliia, 14, and Veronika, 2, a place to stay so they could flee their war-torn homeland.
The O’Briens offered the Shuhailos the two spare rooms and bathroom located on the top floor of their home in Lewisham, south London.
This week, as the sombre one-year anniversary of the continuing conflict falls, they confirmed to The Irish Post that they have now agreed to foster Yuliia.
Their generous offer means the 15-year-old can remain in the UK despite her mum and sister having now returned to their home in the city of Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, in southern Ukraine.
“The family returned home to Ukraine in the summer and were booked to come back, but that did not happen,” Mr O’Brien told The Irish Post.
“Nataliia felt she could not leave her husband and elderly mother behind yet again, which is something we totally understand,” he added.
“But after much talk over the last few months, it was decided that Yullia would fly back to the UK as Isabel and l are going to foster her.”
Mr O’Brien explained: “We are very aware that Yuliia has missed out, through Covid and war, on being able to be a teenager – things such as enjoying friendships and face-to-face schooltime.
“We are lucky that we are able to offer her the chance to have those opportunities.”
He added: “We always made it clear that Yuliia and her mother and sister would be welcome to return to us when they went back to Ukraine.
“Yuliia was really keen to return, and her parents could see the benefits and so we were happy for her to return.”
Yullia arrived back in England to live with the O’Briens on January 26, in an arrangement agreed between the two families.
“In terms of fostering, this is a private arrangement between our families, and Yuliia’s parents have drawn up a legal contract which gives us guardianship of Yuliia from the day she arrived in the UK,” Mr O’Brien explained.
The local community in Lewisham are also in favour of the agreement, with the Old Colfeians Mason Lodge offering to provide funding to support Yuliia while she is living with the O’Briens.
And for both families the new arrangement marks a positive next step after their time spent together while war ravaged the Shuhailos’ home country.
“The experience of welcoming Nataliia and the girls into our home has been great and we have learned a lot from it,” Mr O’Brien admits.
“We were blessed with lovely people who will remain lifelong friends and there are certainly no regrets for us in opening up our home to a family in need.”
So close have the families become that the O’Briens are hopeful to visit Ukraine themselves once travel there becomes possible.
In the meantime, they are looking forward to planning a trip to Ireland, so they can share their own roots with Yullia while she is in their care.
“We look forward to visiting Ukraine when of course, that becomes possible,” Mr O’Brien said.
“We will also be taking her on holiday to Ireland, so she can meet more of our family and enjoy the Irish craic,” he added.