Welcoming Ukrainian refugees

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Bulletin speaks to the University’s Estates Department about the process of renovating two flats in Edinburgh city centre to house Ukranian families escaping the war.

Iryna Kozakevych’s life was turned upside down after the Russia-Ukraine conflict started in February last year. She fled to Scotland with her young daughter Sofia while her husband stayed behind to help the war effort. They spent months living in a small room on MS Victoria, which was docked in Leith, with 1,500 other Ukrainian refugees.   

When the Scottish Government’s contract with the cruise ship ended in July this year, Iryana was moved to a two-bedroom flat in the heart of Edinburgh owned by the University.  

Peter Hughes, an Architectural Technician in the Small Projects and Minor Works team, was in charge of managing the renovation of two flats in the city centre for Ukranian refugees after the Scottish Government contacted the University to see if any suitable housing could be made available. 

The first project was a flat at Buccleuch Place which was bought by the University after the elderly lady who owned it passed away. 

“It coincided with what was going on in Ukraine and so the flat was bought with the view to refurbish it and give it to a Ukrainian family,” Peter explains. 

“It needed quite a lot of refurbishment work done to it and it was only when we started the project that we realised how bad it was. When you start taking an old building apart you find issues that you didn’t anticipate. We had to get structural engineers involved to make the flat safe and we also had to deal with a damp problem. There are always issues that crop up with a renovation but it’s nice to see the finished results.” 

Iryna Kozakevych with her daughter Sofia

Christine Harper, Senior Estates Property Manager at the University focused on the small details that make a house a home. 

“We were operating under the assumption that nobody would speak English and we had to try and anticipate what these poor folk needed,” she says. “They’ve been on a boat in a tiny little room for about a year so I nipped out and got some shopping for them, just the very basics that I thought would help them settle in.” 

With the help of Accommodation Catering and Events (ACE), Christine bought bedding, towels, laundry materials and a coffee table to make the property more welcoming.  

She added: “I can’t imagine the upheaval they have been through, especially for Iryana with her young daughter. We wanted to let them know that they are safe and have somewhere to live.”   

Iryna currently volunteers at St Cecilia’s Hall, home to the University’s musical instrument collection, and says her new home is in the ideal location: “My new home is in a lovely area, with a wonderful park nearby and all the amenities. It’s also convenient for my daughter to get to school.” 

Iryna was overwhelmed when she saw the flat for the first time: “I remember how we drove up to our new house, where Christine was already waiting for us. She greeted us very kindly and helped us carry our suitcases. When we entered the apartment, I could barely hold back my tears. 

“I remember my daughter Sofia seeing her bedroom and asking in surprise ‘will I have my own separate room?!’ It was unforgettable. 

“Moving into a permanent home had a huge impact on our lives. Although we are very grateful for our previous home, we lacked space and privacy. Now we have it all.” 

The other University flat renovated is at Livingston Place near The Meadows. The team added a new bathroom, and kitchen, as well as updating the carpets and heating system for the retired couple who were moving in. 

Luidmyla and Oleksander Moseichuk and their grandson Dmytro Bobrov

Christine says: “The older couple are in the flat with the garden and I think that has been a real sort of therapy for them having been stuck in a small room, they’re able to go and sit in the garden during nice weather and potter about. 

“I think that the University should be proud that they’ve reached out and offered real, tangible help and taken such a burden off the Ukrainian families. It’s not just talk, it’s actually going ahead and making it happen for them.” 

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