A Ukrainian family of nine live in fear a knock on the door could leave them homeless at any moment after being told to leave their UK home just weeks after arriving.
Maxim and Olga Hyryk fled Kyiv with their five young children and both their mothers after Russia invaded their country on 24 February.
After an arduous nine-day journey through airstrikes to reach the Polish border and more than two months spent moving between refugee shelters, the family finally arrived in Britain in May and settled into life at a two-bedroom bungalow in Fareham, Hampshire, via the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme.
They enrolled their eldest two children in a local school after their hosts initially told them they could stay for six months – but just weeks after moving in they received a letter informing them they must vacate the property by 15 July.
The parents, both 36, launched an online appeal in a desperate bid to raise enough money for a deposit and 12 months’ rent to secure a new home.
But, despite raising more than £20,000 thanks to hundreds of generous people, the family has been rejected by landlords at least 15 times.
Speaking to The Independent, Mr Hyryk revealed he and his wife were bracing themselves for the moment someone would turn up at the door and tell them to leave.
He said: “We have trouble and money does not solve the problem. We didn’t expect it would be a big problem because in Ukraine when you have money you can rent any home you want.
“We didn’t expect that here even with money and even when we make the offers to agencies or to landlords to pay rent 12 months up front plus guarantors they wouldn’t want us.”
Mr Hyryk and his wife are living in the two-bedroom bungalow with their seven-year-old twins Maxim and David, two-year-old twins Amiran and Tamerlan, one-year-old daughter Nikol, and mothers Anna, 70, and Olena, 60.
Both Amiran, who has autism, and Anna, who has dementia and other medical issues, need round-the-clock care.
Mr Hyryk, a trained lawyer who has worked on high-profile court cases in his native country, said he understood why landlords were reluctant to take on such a big family when he had not yet secured a job in the UK – but the family’s situation is growing increasingly desperate.
“I understand why because a big family with children is not very good for landlords but the problem isn’t solved,” he said.
“We’ve applied for more than 15 houses. They will not say the reasons why we are not accepted, they just say ‘Sorry but the landlord has chosen somebody else’.”
He added: “We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, or even today.
“When you don’t know what will happen tomorrow it’s very difficult.
“It’s like in Ukraine; in Ukraine you don’t know where the next time the rocket will fall – but here you also don’t know what will happen next if somebody will come to your door and say ‘Hello we are from the court and you have to leave’.
“We are waiting for the court probably.”
The father said he did not know how much longer the family would be able to stay in their current home since the 15 July deadline has passed – but they now have a team of four lawyers fighting their corner to “buy more time”.
After reading about the family’s situation in The Independent last month, Will Foulkes of Stephenson Law initially visited their fundraising page to donate to the cause.
But after receiving further updates about their continued struggle to find a new home, he decided to get in touch and offer to help them pro bono.
The solicitor, who is based in Bath, told The Independent: “I saw the JustGiving page and originally just gave them some money because I was appalled by how awful it was.
“I left it at that but then I got the updates and saw one saying that despite the fact we’ve surpassed our target we’re still stuck and it looks like we’re going to be evicted on Friday and I thought I couldn’t imagine the stress of what that would be like so I thought I’d reach out and see if there was anything I could do to help, just on the legal front first of all to see what their rights are.
“Almost immediately from talking to Maxim and hearing first-hand what had happened, I was very shocked and I wanted to see if there was a legal argument to defend the eviction – and there is.
“We are engaged in legal action to defend them on the grounds that they have a fixed-term tenancy of six months.
“They are a very vulnerable family because they have five children and Maxim’s mother has Alzheimer’s so splitting them up into two houses is very difficult.”
Mr Foulkes said Mr Hyryk was “still doing everything in his power” to get out of the house because he knew his family was no longer wanted there.
He hopes the situation can soon be resolved and has enlisted the help of litigation specialist James Tithecott, a barrister and a High Court enforcement officer.
The lawyer said securing a job for Mr Hyryk would be “massive” because it could solve the issue of needing to show landlords proof of income and three months’ worth of payslips.
He added that Mr Hyryk had an “impressive background” having worked for the police in Ukraine and on several high-profile cybercrime court cases.
“I think we can resolve this,” he said. “But we need a friendly landlord who is willing to help and employment.”
The Independent has contacted Hampshire County Council for comment.