A UKRAINIAN family has said they have been "overwhelmed" by the kindness shown to them by a Hexham couple who have helped house them.

Sarah and Chris Martin have given Yuliya, her teenage daughter Ksenia, her mother Olga and dog Nika the keys to a South Shields property after the family arrived in the UK having escaped war-torn Ukraine.

Yuliya and her family are the first refugee family to be matched with hosts in the region by husband and wife John Lawler and Kari Anderson – the people behind the charity MAD Foundation’s Operation Safe Drop.

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The MAD Foundation, working with local Ukrainian charities, arranged to get them from Kyiv to Lviv in Western Ukraine and on to Przemysl in Poland. Yuliya and Ksenia could apply for their UK Visa’s online as they had more modern biometric passports. 

However, Olga only had an older passport and so had to travel into Poland to apply for the visa in person, as it requires her biometrics to be registered. This has meant a long wait in Poland for the visa to be processed.

As well as helping with travel out of Ukraine, the MAD Foundation assisted the family, matching them to a host family in the North East and has ensured they were housed safely whilst the visa application was processed.

Sarah, who lives in Hexham with Chris and their two young children, is the granddaughter of a holocaust survivor, the late Edith Askew.

Edith came to South Shields from Vienna in the aftermath of the Second World War. Edith’s father, and Sarah’s great grandfather, was born in Ukraine.

Hexham Courant: Chris and Sarah Martin with their children.Chris and Sarah Martin with their children.

Sarah, a Town Planner for Northumberland County Council and Trustee for Hexham-based charity Tanga Club, said: "I was shocked to watch the horrors unfolding in Ukraine and as it became clear that refugees would seek sanctuary in the UK there was no question about doing everything I could to help.

"People of the North East are famous for their hospitality and charity, speaking with friends and colleagues there is an overwhelming desire to help Ukrainians, but many are uncertain of how best to help.

“MAD Foundation’s Operation Safe Drop has been a tremendous support to me and families in assisting them safely leave Ukraine, helping with matters when they reach Poland and their onward travel to the UK.

“It was a great sense of relief and joy when Yuliya and her family finally arrived in the UK."

Speaking through an interpreter, Yuliya said: “John and Kari have treated us very well.  They have done a lot for us. We are so thankful to Sarah and her family who have sponsored us through the visa process and are providing us with a lovely house in South Shields. 

"They wrote to us often asking how we are. We are overwhelmed to have met them and at the kindness they have shown us.”

To support the MAD Foundation's work, visit their JustGiving page here.