A Maidenhead rabbi who is attempting to set up a “Ukrainetransport” for families fleeing the Russian invasion says he has been overwhelmed by offers of help in the UK.
Jonathan Romain, whose mother fled Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport during the second world war, has been contacted by more than 240 people offering rooms for refugees.
Explaining the initiative, he tweeted: “I have always wondered how I could repay the debt I owe to the Kindertransport, who saved my then 11-year-old mother. Now is the time, which is why I am helping to coordinate Ukrainetransport.”
Romain praised the “amazing” response from those who have got in touch from across the UK, offering rooms in their houses, mobile homes and even one who has a hotel.
He said an 84-year-old woman told him she wants to offer her spare room despite being due to have a cataract operation soon, while another whose husband receives kidney dialysis has offered to open up her home if there is a Ukrainian family who are also in need of dialysis, saying she can take them all to hospital at the same time.
“It’s been that sort of really warm response, really caring response that’s been quite amazing,” he said.
His initiative came as the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, said more than 1.5 million people have already fled Ukraine for neighbouring countries.
The rabbi plans to contact the government on Monday with the offers he has received so far.
The government has been criticised for its sluggish response to helping refugees from Ukraine. After delays, it has extended a visa scheme to allow more people from Ukraine to join relatives in the UK, but plans for a humanitarian refugee scheme to help those without family ties in Britain have yet to be announced.
Romain, who is based in Maidenhead, Berkshire, said he hopes what happened with refugees coming to the UK from Afghanistan last year, being put up in hotels rather than hosted by British families, can be avoided.
He said those wanting to help are a mix of people whose ancestors had to flee during the second world war, and others who have no previous experience of refugees but are “just appalled for humanitarian reasons”.
Romain said: “So many people have responded and I have been overwhelmed by the numbers, but also the comments because people are so appalled by what’s going on and they feel so impotent and they want to help in some way, and yes of course we can send money and medical equipment, but people want to be much more involved.
“Helping a Ukrainian family and making a real difference to them is what appeals to a lot of people who’ve got that capacity and therefore they said ‘we’re only too delighted to help’.”
After fleeing the Nazis on the kindertransport, Romain’s mother was looked after by a family in Devon.
He said: “When what’s been happening in Ukraine erupted, I thought ‘well, here’s my chance to repay the debt’. If it wasn’t for what Britain offered in hospitality to my mother, I wouldn’t be here and so this is perhaps the time for me and for my generation to step up.”
He said: “The warmth of human company is enormously important, and also for people who are trying to get to know the language. So it’s not just a matter of a roof over the head, it’s a matter of looking after people and getting them to integrate.”
Anyone who is interested in getting involved can email Rabbi Romain at [email protected]