A Ukrainian family who fled their war-torn country to come to Scotland face being left homeless due to a lack of suitable council housing.
Nataliya Hevak, husband Liubomyr and their three young children settled in to their host’s home in Lanark last spring after their city Lviv was targeted with Russian missiles.
But their desperate bid to find a house in East Renfrewshire, near an additional needs school for her 14-year-old son, has been unsuccessful.
Levko has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair as he is unable to walk.
He is waiting for surgery on both his legs and has been attending weekly appointments at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, an hour’s drive away.
When the family registered to secure a new home towards the end of their six-month sponsorship with Gillian Randlesome and her family, they were told they were “high priority”, but that it would likely be a three-month wait.
Nataliya, 41, told STV News: “Our hosts are really lovely and agreed to let us stay for another three months, but we cannot ask to stay much longer.
“It’s hard for them and for us – there are nine people living in one house.
“We had to flee our country because of war and now we can be homeless in Scotland. It’s just so difficult for us and we are desperate for help.”
Nataliya explained they have considered renting privately but few homes have accessible bathrooms for Levko.
She said the council had offered them a flat as temporary accommodation, but claims when she asked if it was suitable for a wheelchair user, an official suggested they would be “out on the streets” if they turned it down.
After weeks of being unable to find a suitable three or four-bed property, three new-build homes came onto the market last week.
But when Nataliya phoned up to enquire, she said they were told they were unlikely to get them as they were “bottom of the waiting list”.
“How would they know if the bidding hadn’t ended yet?” she said. “They just said ‘there’s no way you’ll get this’.
“We don’t mind going to an older building at all, but as far as we know, the newer ones have wider doorways for our son.
“I wonder if perhaps because we are from Ukraine they don’t want to give them to us.
“We are not being fussy. We don’t need high ceilings and big windows. We don’t want to come across as pushy or demanding. We just need an accessible property for my son.
“He has so much equipment, such as a hospital bed, so we will be unable to be placed in a hotel either.
“Levko is getting bigger than I am and he’s getting harder to lift as he grows.
“I understand there will be a big queue of people, but we were told we were high priority due to our situation.”
Nataliya and her husband Liubomyr drove 1,600 miles from western Ukraine with their three children, Levko, Roman and Marta, after they were offered a home in Scotland.
The family have been settling well into their new lives in Hawksland, a village near Lesmahagow, since they arrived.
Nataliya said Scotland is also far more accessible for disabled people than Ukraine, so they enjoy the freedoms of day trips as a family without too much forward planning.
Liubomyr is currently taking exams to qualify as a bus driver in Glasgow, while Nataliya has secured translation work to help other Ukrainian refugees.
Roman, seven, and five-year-old Marta have been attending Lanark Primary School while Levko goes to Lanark Grammar School.
Nataliya hopes he can attend Isobel Mair School, where he can benefit from activities such as hydrotherapy to help his condition.
There is also a Ukrainian hub in East Renfrewshire where they can make more friends from their own home country.
She said: “The children have managed to join in even though they never spoke the language. They have made so many friends and the teachers love having them.
“Marta now speaks English better than my husband – and with a Scottish accent. She is so cute and such a chatty person. She plays until bedtime with her best friend Eilidh.
“Roman got awards from school for maths. He likes to count and maths is the only subject that is the same as back home. He’s like a fish in water. I’m so proud of him.
“It’s hard to move school, but they are so young and they can adapt to just one more change.”
Nataliya said they only have until Thursday, February 10 to find a council house and will be unable to bid for another year afterwards.
She added: “Scotland has been so welcoming. Everyone is so lovely here.
“When we came here, we were sure we would be back by the end of the school year, but it doesn’t look like the war is going to end soon. We are now considering building our life in Scotland.
“There’s no chance of us having a life back in Ukraine now. Levko’s old school has told us they cannot accommodate him if he returns as the underground shelter is not wheelchair accessible.
“The infrastructure has been damaged so you only get two hours of power a day. My parents miss us, but it is too dangerous and unsafe to go back.
“We hope and pray this war will end, but we need to settle into school, job and real life here now. You have to start living your life, rather than waiting for things to change.
“This country has already helped us so much, but we need support for our disabled son and a permanent home.”
An East Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “The family have registered as homeless in East Renfrewshire, while they remain in South Lanarkshire for the time-being, and we have a ground floor three-bed flat available for them, but an occupational therapist assessment will be required to ensure it meets their needs.
“We appreciate that they are in a really challenging situation however we currently have almost 300 active homeless cases in temporary housing in East Renfrewshire, as well as over 60 Ukrainian families who’ve resettled here and will also require permanent accommodation, so demand for housing remains high.
“We take cases such as Ms Nevak’s extremely seriously and our staff will continue to work hard to help find them a suitable home as soon as possible.”
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