A big-hearted Devizes dynamo who has independently matched more than 100 Ukrainian refugees with host families in the UK is calling for more people to offer a home to those fleeing the Russian invaders – as she warns that the crisis of the displaced is going to get much worse.

Almost five million Ukrainians, mainly women and children, have fled the war raging in their homeland. The first of them arrived in Devizes last week after they were found a family in the town by freelance matchmaker Narelle Guthrie.

The 35-year-old mother of three has taken the emergency rescue into her own hands by travelling on her own to Poland – and into Ukraine – to pitch in and help Ukrainians find sanctuary in Britain.

Narelle has spent a week in Poland, working in kitchens feeding Ukrainians, establishing a bank of translators, helping the refugees to fill in visa applications to come to Britain and, with the LoveUkraine Devizes group, finding local families who will give them a temporary home.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Narelle with Yana and Ira, the first Ukrainian refugees to come to Devizes.Narelle with Yana and Ira, the first Ukrainian refugees to come to Devizes.

She has already matched more than 100 families nationwide and has found 38 potential sponsors in Devizes who are providing homes.

“But I’ve got double that number of Ukrainians who want to come to Devizes, we need more homes. More families will be needing somewhere because the situation in Ukraine is going to get much worse,” said Narelle, who has funded all of her travel and accommodation through Europe out of her own pocket.

“Matching families with Ukrainians is not just a matter of finding a match for the sake of it, it has to be the best match. So the way I do it is to get to know the refugees, finding out as much as possible about them, like do they have children, what their hobbies are, what jobs they do, who they would like to live with, are there any disability issues?

“It takes hours and hours and many late nights working to get it right. For instance, are they smokers, do they have pets? One lady I helped wanted to bring her pet turtle. Also, it’s important to try arrange, as much as possible, for the Ukrainians to be homed in the same area with their wider families and friends.

“It would be really helpful for our work at LoveUkraine Devizes if co-ordinating authorities like Wiltshire Council could share with us some of their data on potential hosts, so that we can make the best matches.”

Narelle, who was inspired to launch her own Ukrainian rescue service by her 11-year-old son Xavier saying “Mum, we’ve got to do something to help”, has been praised by the Mayor of Devizes, Cllr Chris Gay, who called her “an unsung hero”.

The Rev Keith Brindle, a co-organiser of LoveUkraine Devizes, added: “Narelle has made heroic efforts to support Ukrainians coming to Devizes, working tirelessly for refugees and host families. Her big heart and huge commitment has been such a help to people in a desperate and very complex situation and the success of matching families here with Ukrainian families has been largely due to her phenomenal work.”

If you can help Ukrainians in need, go to www.loveukrainedevizes.org