Meet the incredible volunteers making sure Ukrainians arriving at Glasgow airport receive a warm welcome.
Russia’s war against Ukraine has forced millions of people from their homes. Almost 23,000 men, women and children have arrived in Scotland in search of safety.
At Glasgow airport, a special group of dedicated volunteers are on hand to greet people fleeing the war against Ukraine. They are a friendly face, offering reassurance and a warm Scottish welcome to people who often arrive exhausted and traumatised.
With the support of our meet and greet volunteers, we’ve welcomed more than 1,200 people displaced from Ukraine since March 2022. Our volunteers provide people with essential information as soon as they arrive in Scotland and accompany them to the nearby hub run by Renfrewshire Council Resettlement Team.
We caught up with some of our volunteers to find out more.
“I definitely think about people after I’ve helped them. I’ll reflect on what happened. You can’t help but compare it to your own situation.
“Sometimes you’ll have a proper chat when you’re waiting for the resettlement team. They’ll show you pictures of the wreckage that used to be their family home on their phone. It’s eye-opening. You see it on the news but when it’s on a one-to-one personal basis it’s so much more real.
“The news always focuses on the war itself. There’s a lot of individuals who are just normal people who want to live a normal life. They want to get a job, settle, bring up their families. The media focuses on trauma and warfare and not the everyday hopes and aspirations of the people affected.”
“The best thing about being a volunteer is the feeling that you are useful here. I know how it feels when you come to a strange country for the first time. You don’t know what tomorrow will be or where you will stay. It’s really scary.
“I came to Scotland from Ukraine in July. When I arrived, I was so scared. I had read about what to do but I didn’t know how it would be. It’s really great when there’s someone you can ask. Even more when they can speak to you in your own language.
“I saw that Scottish Refugee Council were looking for volunteers at Glasgow airport and I thought it would be a great experience for me. At the interview I saw the number of people who wanted to be a volunteer for this project and I was like ‘wow’. All these people who are doing this for nothing, just to welcome people here in Scotland.”
“For me it’s really great that I have an opportunity to chat with other volunteers while I have a shift. I really appreciate these moments and am really glad that I have a lot of new friends now.
“News coverage of the war in Ukraine was devastating and I wanted to do more than feel sympathy for those affected. Getting involved with Scottish Refugee Council to support Ukrainians arriving into Scotland seemed a practical way to help.
“The best thing about volunteering is being in a position to offer a warm welcome to people who are feeling dismayed, displaced and anxious about what will happen to them. Although our role in the whole process is limited, that initial welcome can make a difference for people on a very difficult journey.
“Trying to understand (and explain) the limited coordination between councils (and other agencies) can be challenging. Families and friends trying to reunite can be blocked by ‘the process’ which seems unnecessarily cruel. The internal structures don’t seem to be able to offer the flexibility required to make decisions based on the human experience. I understand it’s a large operation and processes are required by the authorities to manage the numbers involved but sometimes it feels more process driven than people centric.”
“I had no space to host anyone but I still wanted to help. This was something I could actually do. It’s a big thing, being the first face they’ve dealt with when they get here. They often remember you.
“There was once a lady with a baby who arrived with no luggage. Normally just travelling with a baby requires all sorts of baggage. They literally had nothing with them.
“Having Olga, a Russian speaker, [as a fellow volunteer] was so helpful. You do get people who are traumatised, who are very upset, having a Russian speaker really helped.
“Ukrainian is a hard language to learn. I’ve been using the SayHi app. We found out about it from the refugees. It’s way better than Google Translate. We always recommend it to the hosts.
“We do get to know the hosts. They’ve told me some lovely things about communities who have pulled together to support somebody. Some of those stories are really interesting.
“We used to play a game where we tried to spot hosts waiting at the airport. Sometimes their kids had made welcome signs for the refugees, sometimes they’d tried to write it in Ukrainian.
“When people arrive, you see their faces and they are so scared and traumatised. You see kids with only one backpack and you realise they left everything behind. Their past life, their future plans; everything was wiped out in one night. Then when someone is there to greet them, when they hear your voice and they hear that you speak their language you can see their smile.
“I have Ukrainian background and have a lot of family there. When the war happened, I felt very guilty that I’m here safe and comfortable in Scotland. I wanted to find ways that I could help. Then I saw the appeal for meet and greet volunteers and I thought that was a good option. I have the language skills and cultural knowledge and thought I can be useful. I can select shifts in the evening and weekends so I can fit it around my job.
“When you arrive for your shift, you get to see how people are settling in. You keep meeting all these faces that you first met when they arrived at the airport three months ago and they start to tell you how they’re getting on. They’ve started at college. They’ve got a job. It’s amazing to see their progression.”
“I started volunteering out of a sense of rage and frustration at what was happening and an urge to do something to help. What we do is simple but really valuable. It’s rewarding. It’s different seeing it first-hand: it’s not the same as what you see on the news.
“Sometimes now I see some of the people I welcomed at the hotel months on and I wonder why they’re still there and how they feel about it.
“The sight that always stays with me is the ladies who come with kids – they all have one small suitcase each and they have to start a new life with that. I find that fascinating. I left Serbia with one small suitcase 30 years ago.”
“I remember many people who arrived. It’s hard to single anyone out, they all have their own sad stories. And I hope that I was able to make sure that their first visit wasn’t so hard emotionally.
“I started volunteering with Scottish Refugee Council in August. The main thing I do is volunteer at the Welcome Desk at the airport. This is a bit of a new role for me. I’ve always helped pets who had been abandoned. Now I just wanted to help people who are coming to another country for the first time, and many of them don’t know the language.
“It’s not like they’re going to travel [for a holiday]. There is the war in our country and there’s nothing left but chaos.
“I’m happy to work with everyone at the Scottish Refugee Council. They are the most wonderful people.”
Read more about our Ukraine response and how we’re helping people fleeing the war against Ukraine to feel at home in Scotland.