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Britain’s kindest village in Oxfordshire opens its doors to fleeing 50 Ukrainians

With its cricket club, thatched cottages and 13th century church, it is a picture-postcard village.

Now the residents of North Moreton in Oxfordshire have proved it is as welcoming as it is pretty – by offering accommodation for 50 Ukrainians.

The move would see refugees fleeing the Russian invasion invited to stay at villagers’ attractive homes including a Grade-II listed former rectory, a farmhouse and a barn conversion.

If the kind-hearted bid succeeds, it would also amount to the rural village becoming what would surely be Britain’s most scenic refugee camp.

North Moreton in Oxfordshire have proved it is as welcoming as it is pretty – by offering accommodation for 50 Ukrainians

We've got power to help: John Stuart, 53, an investor in renewable energy, and his wife Joanna, 51, live in the village’s former rectory, part of which dates back to 1530. The couple, who have four children, are offering a space with a bedroom, shower room, lavatory and living room in the attic level of their Grade II-listed home. Mr Stuart’s work has included a project to build a windfarm in Ukraine in the district of Zaporizhzhia, where the nuclear plant was attacked by Russia earlier this month. He said: ‘I know people out there and unfortunately have been hearing first-hand what’s going on. Having that connection and the space here, it’s very easy for us to be able to help.’

We’ve got power to help: John Stuart, 53, an investor in renewable energy, and his wife Joanna, 51, live in the village’s former rectory, part of which dates back to 1530. The couple, who have four children, are offering a space with a bedroom, shower room, lavatory and living room in the attic level of their Grade II-listed home. Mr Stuart’s work has included a project to build a windfarm in Ukraine in the district of Zaporizhzhia, where the nuclear plant was attacked by Russia earlier this month. He said: ‘I know people out there and unfortunately have been hearing first-hand what’s going on. Having that connection and the space here, it’s very easy for us to be able to help.’

Granny's flat ideal for kids: Project co-ordinator Polly Vacher, 78, and her husband Peter, 79, a retired printing firm boss, have lived in their large 1970s bungalow on a 140-acre arable farm in the village for 16 years. They are offering their granny flat with a double bedroom, living room with space for camp beds, its own bathroom, kitchenette and front door, and think it would be ideal for a mother and children. Grandmother-of-five Mrs Vacher said: ‘We have an amazing village here, the camaraderie and community spirit is incredible. We have applied as a community to bring a group of Ukrainians in. We feel if there is a group in one place it would be much better for them. ‘You can walk round the village in five minutes so they could visit each other easily.’

Granny’s flat ideal for kids: Project co-ordinator Polly Vacher, 78, and her husband Peter, 79, a retired printing firm boss, have lived in their large 1970s bungalow on a 140-acre arable farm in the village for 16 years. They are offering their granny flat with a double bedroom, living room with space for camp beds, its own bathroom, kitchenette and front door, and think it would be ideal for a mother and children. Grandmother-of-five Mrs Vacher said: ‘We have an amazing village here, the camaraderie and community spirit is incredible. We have applied as a community to bring a group of Ukrainians in. We feel if there is a group in one place it would be much better for them. ‘You can walk round the village in five minutes so they could visit each other easily.’

Instinct is to give support: Chris Gibson, 67, and his wife Jacquie, 70, are offering up their spare double and single bedrooms at their detached bungalow. The couple, who have lived in the village for 23 years, have both been touched by the ‘horrendous’ scenes in Ukraine they have watched on the news. Mrs Gibson admits to sometimes even being reduced to tears. Her husband, a retired wheelie bin cleaning company owner, said: ‘The displaced have nowhere to go and don’t know where they’re going. So if we can do anything to help we will.’ Mrs Gibson said: ‘What Russia’s doing in Ukraine is inhumane. It makes me cry, I can’t find the words for it. It’s great our community is coming together to help.’

Instinct is to give support: Chris Gibson, 67, and his wife Jacquie, 70, are offering up their spare double and single bedrooms at their detached bungalow. The couple, who have lived in the village for 23 years, have both been touched by the ‘horrendous’ scenes in Ukraine they have watched on the news. Mrs Gibson admits to sometimes even being reduced to tears. Her husband, a retired wheelie bin cleaning company owner, said: ‘The displaced have nowhere to go and don’t know where they’re going. So if we can do anything to help we will.’ Mrs Gibson said: ‘What Russia’s doing in Ukraine is inhumane. It makes me cry, I can’t find the words for it. It’s great our community is coming together to help.’

Record-breaking aviator Polly Vacher, who lives in North Moreton and is co-ordinating the initiative, said: ‘It’s a small place with a big heart.

‘But the refugees are more important than any of us. If you put yourself in their shoes and it was us being bombed, we’d be grateful for families to take us in. So why wouldn’t anyone want to help?’

Mrs Vacher, a former music teacher who became an amateur pilot aged 50, has flown solo around the world twice in a single engine aircraft and over the North Pole and the Antarctic.

The village near Didcot has a population of around just 350 living in 157 properties. The average sold price for a property there was £677,500 last year – well above the national average – while detached homes sold for £1million or more, according to property website Zoopla.

A round-robin email in the close-knit community has already resulted in offers of accommodation from 16 households – with enough space for 50 Ukrainians between them – in under a week.

They are also formulating a plan to use the village hall as a community centre for the refugees. The hall could also serve as a classroom for Ukrainian children with lessons given by around seven retired teachers living in the village if they can’t get into nearby primary schools.

Touched by awful scenes: Chris Gibson, 67, and his wife Jacquie, 70, are offering up their spare double and single bedrooms at their detached bungalow. The couple, who have lived in the village for 23 years, have both been touched by the ‘horrendous’ scenes in Ukraine they have watched on the news. Mrs Gibson admits to sometimes even being reduced to tears. Her husband, a retired wheelie bin cleaning company owner, said: ‘The displaced have nowhere to go and don’t know where they’re going. So if we can do anything to help we will.’ Mrs Gibson said: ‘What Russia’s doing in Ukraine is inhumane. It makes me cry, I can’t find the words for it. It’s great our community is coming together to help.’

Touched by awful scenes: Chris Gibson, 67, and his wife Jacquie, 70, are offering up their spare double and single bedrooms at their detached bungalow. The couple, who have lived in the village for 23 years, have both been touched by the ‘horrendous’ scenes in Ukraine they have watched on the news. Mrs Gibson admits to sometimes even being reduced to tears. Her husband, a retired wheelie bin cleaning company owner, said: ‘The displaced have nowhere to go and don’t know where they’re going. So if we can do anything to help we will.’ Mrs Gibson said: ‘What Russia’s doing in Ukraine is inhumane. It makes me cry, I can’t find the words for it. It’s great our community is coming together to help.’

Easy decision to make: Duncan Murray-Clarke, 52, and his wife Emma, 51, run an advertising agency and a publishing company and are offering the furnished extension above their garage. Mr Murray-Clarke said: ‘We had a chat about it a couple of weeks ago and thought we ought to do something. We have the space so it was an easy decision to make.’ Mrs Murray-Clarke called Russia’s attack on Ukraine an ‘atrocity’ and said their sons Harris, eight, and Billy, 14, understand what’s happening there too. ‘They are concerned and very mindful of the situation,’ she said. ‘Harris said we could have people living here, which was surprising and lovely.’

Easy decision to make: Duncan Murray-Clarke, 52, and his wife Emma, 51, run an advertising agency and a publishing company and are offering the furnished extension above their garage. Mr Murray-Clarke said: ‘We had a chat about it a couple of weeks ago and thought we ought to do something. We have the space so it was an easy decision to make.’ Mrs Murray-Clarke called Russia’s attack on Ukraine an ‘atrocity’ and said their sons Harris, eight, and Billy, 14, understand what’s happening there too. ‘They are concerned and very mindful of the situation,’ she said. ‘Harris said we could have people living here, which was surprising and lovely.’

Example for children: Alice Channer, 33, an accountant, and her husband Ed, 35, a programme manager for an international development consultancy, live in a thatched cottage dating back to 1650. They converted a garage into a home office, complete with shower room and kitchenette, while working from home during lockdown and think it could comfortably accommodate an adult and two children. Mrs Channer said: ‘I want to do something useful. I can easily work in the house instead if I have to and the space can be put to good use for someone with nowhere to live. We’re lucky to be in such a lovely village, so I hope doing this will set a good example to our kids, Freya, four, and one-year-old Joan.’

Example for children: Alice Channer, 33, an accountant, and her husband Ed, 35, a programme manager for an international development consultancy, live in a thatched cottage dating back to 1650. They converted a garage into a home office, complete with shower room and kitchenette, while working from home during lockdown and think it could comfortably accommodate an adult and two children. Mrs Channer said: ‘I want to do something useful. I can easily work in the house instead if I have to and the space can be put to good use for someone with nowhere to live. We’re lucky to be in such a lovely village, so I hope doing this will set a good example to our kids, Freya, four, and one-year-old Joan.’

Ukrainian-born lecturer ‘gives up bringing his mother and sister to Britain because of Home Office red tape’

A Ukrainian-born lecturer at the University of Portsmouth has said he is ‘appalled’ at the Government’s handling of visas for war refugees from his country.

Andrii Zharikov, a senior lecturer at the Hampshire university’s law faculty, said he had given up on the idea of bringing his sister, Anna-Maria Zharikova, 19, and mother, Tetyana Zharikova, 53, to the UK because of red-tape restrictions.

Andrii Zharikov (left), a senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth's law faculty, said he had given up on the idea of bringing his sister, Anna-Maria Zharikova, 19, and mother, Tetyana Zharikova, 53, to the UK because of red-tape restrictions. (Also pictured, Andrii's sister, mother, and father, Victor, 55)

Andrii Zharikov (left), a senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth’s law faculty, said he had given up on the idea of bringing his sister, Anna-Maria Zharikova, 19, and mother, Tetyana Zharikova, 53, to the UK because of red-tape restrictions. (Also pictured, Andrii’s sister, mother, and father, Victor, 55)

He explained that although the UK Government has offered to allow Ukrainians to bring family members here, it does not apply to people who have relatives with work visas, like himself.

The 30-year-old said: ‘I was appalled by the way it has been presented with the Government saying it has an open door policy, but the scope is very, very limited.

‘I am very grateful for the EU approach and know my family will stay in the EU because of this and they are better off there, and I will do my best to look after them by sending money.’

Meanwhile, a 12-year-old Ukrainian refugee had her visa application to come to the UK ‘terminated’ due to an error by the Government for unknown reasons, her family said.

Anastasia Marunich applied to come to the UK along with five family members after they fled Cherkasy, on the banks of the Dnieper river in central Ukraine, two weeks ago.

Roger Haycock, 83, a former chairman of the parish council who worked in a managerial position at the Exxon group, the chemical arm of Esso, came up with the idea of using the village hall.

He said North Moreton ‘has a long-term record of giving tremendous support to projects’, adding: ‘If placing a group of Ukrainians is going to work anywhere, it will work here.’

The village has a pub called The Bear Inn, the Moreton Cricket Club – known as MCC like its more famous counterpart – and a church, All Saints, which has been described as one of the country’s most perfect medieval churches.

But despite the villagers’ eagerness to help, they are frustrated by the UK government’s ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme. Its first phase lets UK sponsors nominate a named Ukrainian or a named Ukrainian family to stay with them, but the villagers want the system sped up for communities offering to take in groups.

Yesterday, David Johnston, their Conservative MP for Wantage and Didcot, said: ‘I’ve talked to my Government colleagues about this and it’s my understanding the scheme for groups should be live in a week or so.’ 

A scheme allowing thousands of kind Britons to open their own homes to Ukrainian war refugees officially opens today after an astonishing 150,000 people said they were willing to help. 

Homes for Ukraine aims to match refugees with individuals, charities and other organisations who can provide accommodation for at least six months, enabling those without family ties in Britain to enter the country.

More than 150,000 people in Britain had registered their interest by last night, and refugees who have found a sponsor can apply from Friday. 

However, concerns have been raised about red tape, safeguarding and resourcing, with one major charity warning the Government is ‘unleashing chaos’ with the scheme and that refugees could die before they are matched with a sponsor and can safely reach the UK.

Labour said the programme’s ‘excessive bureaucracy’ and ‘DIY nature’ are the greatest barriers to its success, and urged the Government to ‘cut unnecessary paperwork and play an active role in matching sponsors to refugees’.

Meanwhile former health secretary Matt Hancock has suggested the scheme be used as a template in future to offer sanctuary to refugees from around the world.

The Suffolk MP, who plans to take in a family in his constituency home, said the UK needed ‘a permanent system that’s ready to go whenever there’s a crisis somewhere in the world.’

The prospect of a leafy Oxfordshire village is a world away from the horrors currently facing the trapped citizens in Mariupol, where Russian troops have now taken fighting to the city centre.

Feared Chechen special forces are fighting house-to-house in the besieged port city while ‘hundreds’ of women and children remain trapped in the rubble of a city theatre destroyed by Russian invaders.

Feared Chechen special forces are fighting house-to-house in besieged Mariupol while 'hundreds' of women and children remain trapped in the rubble of a city theatre destroyed by Russian invaders

Feared Chechen special forces are fighting house-to-house in besieged Mariupol while 'hundreds' of women and children remain trapped in the rubble of a city theatre destroyed by Russian invaders

Feared Chechen special forces are fighting house-to-house in besieged Mariupol while ‘hundreds’ of women and children remain trapped in the rubble of a city theatre destroyed by Russian invaders

Video released by pro-Putin Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov shows heavily armed fighters from the region pounding a high-rise building in the bombed-out city during a fierce gunfight with Ukrainian soldiers

Video released by pro-Putin Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov shows heavily armed fighters from the region pounding a high-rise building in the bombed-out city during a fierce gunfight with Ukrainian soldiers

The propaganda video then cuts before showing some of the Chechen fighters emerging from the building with children in their arms while supposedly 'liberating' civilians

The propaganda video then cuts before showing some of the Chechen fighters emerging from the building with children in their arms while supposedly 'liberating' civilians

The propaganda video then cuts before showing some of the Chechen fighters emerging from the building with children in their arms while supposedly ‘liberating’ civilians

Hundreds of people are feared to be trapped in the underground bomb shelters of Mariupol theatre which was destroyed by a Russian airstrike on Wednesday evening

Hundreds of people are feared to be trapped in the underground bomb shelters of Mariupol theatre which was destroyed by a Russian airstrike on Wednesday evening

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As this tally of misery increases over the coming days and months, these innocent victims of this conflict will require accommodation, schools and medical support.

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Video said to have been released by pro-Putin Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov shows heavily armed fighters from the region pounding a high-rise building in the bombed-out city during a fierce gunfight with Ukrainian soldiers.

The propaganda video then cuts before showing some of the Chechen fighters emerging from the building with children in their arms while supposedly ‘liberating’ civilians.

The footage emerged as hundreds of people were still feared trapped under the rubble of a theatre in the devastated city. Evacuees have also told of the ‘hell’ they have been subjected to at the hands of Vladimir Putin’s men.

Russian troops have now reached the city centre and civilians remain hiding in bunkers while fighters battle on the streets.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said: ‘Tanks and machine gun battles continue. There’s no city centre left. There isn’t a small piece of land in the city that doesn’t have signs of war.’]

Nick Osychenko, the CEO of a Mariupol TV station, said that as he fled the city with six members of his family, aged between 4 and 61, he saw dead bodies on nearly every block.

‘We were careful and didn’t want the children to see the bodies, so we tried to shield their eyes,’ he said. ‘We were nervous the whole journey. It was frightening, just frightening.’

Serhiy Taruta, a Ukrainian politician, said that around 130 people had been rescued from the theatre but hundreds of others are unaccounted for – possibly buried under rubble in one part of the bomb shelter, and cannot be evacuated because rescue services have been destroyed by Russian troops.

‘No one understands. Services that are supposed to help are demolished, rescue and utility services… are physically destroyed. A lot of doctors have been killed. This means that all the survivors of the bombing will either die under the ruins of the theater, or have already died,’ he wrote on Facebook. 

Dmytro Gurin, a Ukrainian MP from Mariupol, told the BBC that some people have managed to evacuate but that others are trapped in the shelter and rescuers are struggling to reach them because Russian troops continue to shell it. A rescue mission is underway, he insisted. 

Meanwhile survivors of the siege who managed to flee described the city as ‘hell’, saying that people are being left to bleed or burn to death in the streets because doctors cannot reach them and hospitals have been destroyed, with the bodies covered by a thin layer of soil in makeshift burials.

Russia’s defence ministry said on Friday that its troops have now entered the city and are fighting in the centre, amid fears that it could soon fall into Putin’s hands after three weeks of shelling weakened the defences. If the city does fall, it will be the largest captured so-far – albeit at the cost of near-totally destroying it. 

Rescuers are trying to dig through the rubble to get to the bomb shelters, but the city's mayor warns the building is still being shelled meaning work is slow and 'very, very dangerous'

Rescuers are trying to dig through the rubble to get to the bomb shelters, but the city’s mayor warns the building is still being shelled meaning work is slow and ‘very, very dangerous’

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Up to 1,200 people are thought to have been using the theatre as a shelter when Russian bombs struck and completely destroyed it – despite signs saying ‘children’ being clearly visible outside

A woman and her baby are pictured fleeing the city of Mariupol along a humanitarian corridor that was opened on Thursday, though previous attempts have failed after Russians shelled the routes

A woman and her baby are pictured fleeing the city of Mariupol along a humanitarian corridor that was opened on Thursday, though previous attempts have failed after Russians shelled the routes

Local residents seeking refuge in the basement of a building are seen in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol

Local residents seeking refuge in the basement of a building are seen in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol

A woman weeps after seeing the ruins of her destroyed block of flat in Mariupol, which is under bombardment by Russia

A woman weeps after seeing the ruins of her destroyed block of flat in Mariupol, which is under bombardment by Russia

Women seek refuge in the basement of a building in Mariupol, which has been under Russian bombardment for weeks

Women seek refuge in the basement of a building in Mariupol, which has been under Russian bombardment for weeks

A heavily bombed building is seen in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, after being destroyed by Russian shelling of the city

A heavily bombed building is seen in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, after being destroyed by Russian shelling of the city

Evacuees fleeing Ukraine-Russia conflict sit in a damaged car as they wait in a line to leave the besieged port city of Mariupol

Evacuees fleeing Ukraine-Russia conflict sit in a damaged car as they wait in a line to leave the besieged port city of Mariupol

A school in a residential area on the outskirts of Kharkiv after it was destroyed by Russian shelling today

A school in a residential area on the outskirts of Kharkiv after it was destroyed by Russian shelling today

Debris is scattered over a school classroom in Kharkiv, with chair and desks blown over by the force of the airstrike today

Debris is scattered over a school classroom in Kharkiv, with chair and desks blown over by the force of the airstrike today

Several buildings are destroyed by fragments of a Russian missile in Kyiv today

Several buildings are destroyed by fragments of a Russian missile in Kyiv today

Vladimir Putin has today given a tub-thumping address to tens of thousands of Russians gathered at Moscow's world cup stadium, celebrating his invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and drumming up support for his new war

Vladimir Putin has today given a tub-thumping address to tens of thousands of Russians gathered at Moscow’s world cup stadium, celebrating his invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and drumming up support for his new war

Putin spoke in front of a crowd tens of thousands strong at the Luzhniki World Cup stadium in Moscow, one of the few times he has been seen in public since launching his invasion 23 days ago

Putin spoke in front of a crowd tens of thousands strong at the Luzhniki World Cup stadium in Moscow, one of the few times he has been seen in public since launching his invasion 23 days ago

Svitlana Zlenko, who said she left the city with her son on Tuesday this week, described how she spent days sheltering in a school building – melting snow to cook pasta to eat while living in constant terror of Russian bombs which flew overhead ‘every day and every night’.  

She described how a bomb hit the school last week, wounding a woman in the hip with a piece of shrapnel. ‘She was lying on the first floor of the high school all night and prayed for poison so that she would not feel pain,’ Svitlana said. ‘[She] was taken by the Red Cross within a day, I pray to God she is well.’

She added: ‘There is no food, no medicine, if there is no snow with such urban fights, people will not be able to go out to get water, people have no water left. Pharmacies, grocery stores – everything is robbed or burned.

‘The dead are not taken out. Police recommend to the relatives of those who died of a natural death, to open the windows and lay the bodies on the balcony. I know you think you understand, but you will never understand unless you were there. I pray that this will not happen again in any of the cities of Ukraine, or of the world.’

Despite the pleas, shelling was well underway in other Ukrainian cities on Friday – with Lviv, in the west of the country, the capital Kyiv, and Kharkiv, in the east, coming under fire.  

The war launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin ground into its fourth week as his troops have failed to take Kyiv – a major objective in their hopes of forcing a settlement or dictating the country’s future political alignments.

But back home in Moscow, Putin today gave a tub-thumping speech to tens of thousands of banner-waving Russians in an attempt to drum up support for his stalled invasion.

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