What constitutes a village and why our houses are so cold: cultural confusions between Ukrainian refugees and their Scottish hosts

Some Scottish hosts have found that the families they have welcomed have struggled with the colder temperatures in homes in Scotland, while others have told of the strangeness of the habit of wearing shoes inside the house – and not offering slippers to guests – or have expressed surprise that hot and cold water often come out of separate taps.

Some would-be hosts in Scotland have found it difficult to find people who want to take up their offer of accommodation – due to their perceived remote locations and a perception that London is the only major city in the UK with job opportunities.

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The misconception has often been fueled by the differing views of what constitutes a village location in Ukraine and Scotland. In Ukraine, a “village” is usually a very small community, located in remote rural areas. Some villages in the countryside still do not have good road access, or indoor plumbing.

Many refugees from Ukraine are applying for visas in the UK from countries such as Poland, where they fled to when war broke out.

“When you say ‘village’ in Ukraine, it’s a very different thing,” says Gary Gray, who runs the Scotland Ukraine Host Support Group. “This is something we have needed to address.”

The group has created an advice guide to explain Scottish society and culture to Ukrainian guests. The latest UK Government figures show that a total of 5,200 visas have been issued for Ukrainians to live in Scotland under the Home for Refugees scheme.

Fiona Woodhead, who has offered her spare Aberdeen flat to a refugee family through the Scottish Government super sponsor scheme, says some Ukrainians she had spoken to while trying to help out friends with spare rooms local to her home in the Aberdeenshire village of Midmar, had been put off by the idea of ​​a rural location.

“It is cultural,” she says. “In Ukraine, apparently, a village is very rural. One lady told me she couldn’t come to a village as she couldn’t do manual work.”

She said her friends with rural offers of accommodation were still waiting for a response from the government. An initial application to host under the super sponsor scheme is followed up by a second questionnaire for prospective hosts.

“They are waiting for the Scottish Government to match them but haven’t had their second set of questions yet,” she says. “It seems the Scottish Government, or those they are hosting, are prioritizing flats or houses in cities.”

In some city center housing in Ukraine, as elsewhere in eastern Europe, heating is a set price and is turned on – and off – automatically by the local authorities – meaning that it does not cost more to keep a home warm. As a result, many Ukrainians are used to warmer temperatures at home than in Scotland. The problem has divided some hosts and guests.

Katerina Lisenkova, who helps run the Scotland Ukraine Host Support Group, is originally from Belarus, but has lived in Scotland for 15 years – and spends time explaining Scottish culture to new arrivals.

She says: “There is usually a district heating system in Ukraine and people don’t have any control over the temperature of their homes – it is usually 23, 24 degrees.

“I have been here in Scotland for 15 years and I still haven’t adjusted to the temperature of Scottish homes. When I speak to families from Ukraine planning to come here, they are obviously first concerned with their safety, but I tell them they have to be prepared and bring warm clothes if they have them, not for outside but for inside.”

The eastern European culture of guest slippers – provided so a guest can be comfortable after removing their shoes in someone else’s home – is also a novelty to many Scottish hosts.

“If someone asks me what they can do to make their guest feel comfortable, I say to get them some slippers,” she says. “They don’t believe me, but it is true.”

She adds: “At the beginning, everything is scary and new, but I think as time goes on, those coming from Ukraine will begin to look at the more peculiar differences between the cultures.”

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One woman, Finola O’Neill, posted on the Scotland for Ukraine Facebook group that she had welcomed a family into her home, but had been forced to seek help from a charity to rehouse them days later after they found that her property was too cold for them.

She said she wanted to warn other potential hosts about the challenges which Ukrainian families might come across in Scottish homes.

She said: “I had two bedrooms that were approved by the council, but the family were shocked at how small my rooms were and the overall size of the house.

“Also I think many people live in apartments with centralized heating and well insulated and warm. The family found my house cold and I don’t put the heating on much. It’s a modern bungalow and not cold for me.

“With energy bills it is worth considering that too, depending on how warm your house is and the age of the family members. The grandmother noticed the temperature the most. If I put my heating on all the time, it would be high energy bills.”

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