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Woman whose family fled the Turkish invasion closes her seaside hotel to house Ukrainian refugees

Nitsa Michael, who has run the Seaward Hotel for the past 60 years, has now closed it to tourists to provide a 'home from home' for Ukrainians.

Woman whose family fled the Turkish invasion closes her seaside hotel to house Ukrainian refugees
Cover Image Source: A 12-year-old Ukrainian refugee listens in Truro Cathedral to the Cornwall Choristers recording a Ukrainian work to raise funds for Ukraine on March 21, 2022 in Truro, England. (Photo by Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)

A woman whose family fled to the United Kingdom to escape a war is now doing her part to make these uncertain times a little less grueling for Ukrainians displaced from their homes by the Russian invasion. Nitsa Michael, an 84-year-old great-grandmother, has run the Seaward Hotel in Weston-super-Mare in North Somerset, England, for the past 60 years. She recently closed the doors of the seafront hotel to tourists to provide a "home from home" for Ukrainians. According to BBC, Michael left her home in Cyprus in the 1960s before her family fled in 1974 as Turkey invaded.


When Michael saw the plight of the Ukrainian people amid Russia's ongoing attack on their nation, she felt the overwhelming urge to help them in any way she could. "I felt for them... me and my family hope we're helping them," she said. Speaking to Devon Live, her daughter, Michelle Michael, revealed that her mother insisted, "Let's help, let's help in a big way, this is what I want to do." The 53-year-old, who is in charge of running the hotel, said: "Mum always has and still does listen to the news every day and it was really bothering her. She was feeling quite sad about it all, and that's when she came up with the idea of opening the hotel to refugees."


"Now we are beginning to get everybody mobilized so they can go out and go into the community themselves," she continued. "Our aim and aspiration is to build a small community of like-minded people that look after the place like it's their home. They share meals and time together, and basically, they heal together. We've been brought up to help give people what they want and need. Mum can't do that herself now but her desire to help so many people is commendable and I will do everything I can to make what she wants to happen, happen. She remembers her own family going through this and it's very important that she feels she has been able to help in some way."


"Our mantra is always that we want to make a difference to people's lives. Seeing all the people staying here and how happy they now are, it's all due to her," added Michelle. Michael reportedly left Cyprus for the U.K. in 1955 to marry Axentis, who had moved to the U.K. a few years earlier. The couple eventually moved to London and later to the southwest of England, where they took over the Seaward Hotel. When Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, most of their family who remained in Cyprus were forced to flee their homes and become refugees. "We had no way of knowing if my father's family were dead or alive because there was no connectivity. Everyone fled their homes with nothing to their names - we sent out chests of supplies, but nobody knew if they had been received," recounted Michelle, who was a child at the time.


The couple felt a duty to help and they took in around 16 refugees, including both family and strangers, who had nowhere else to go. "They did everything they could to help - they were always prepared to open their doors. It wasn't something they even questioned," said Michelle. The devastating memories from that time sprung to Michael's mind as she saw the similarities between what her family faced and what fleeing Ukraine are facing now. Soon after the hotel—which shut during the pandemic and had only seen a trickle of local customers staying for work since reopening—was registered on the Homes For Ukraine scheme, refugees started showing up at their doorstep.


One of them was Yuliia, who now lives in the hotel with her husband and their dog after leaving their home in Berdyansk in southeastern Ukraine when the explosions started in February. "This life here is very good, and I'm very glad to be in this country," the 31-year-old said. "But it is very hard when my parents or friends call from Ukraine and I don't know what to say, I know I'm in safety. Here, I have all I need, I can go to the shop, but I know it is hard for them there. Here we have a hotel, a room, a shower, a kitchen and many other things - we also have the sea."


Refugees who arrive at the Seaward Hotel receive welcome packs with essentials such as shower gels and deodorants. According to Michelle, the local council has provided £200 (approximately $250) per person to allow each refugee to mobilize themselves, such as getting a National Insurance number and opening a bank account. Michael visits the hotel once a week to meet every guest and listen to their stories. She especially loves seeing children around the hotel as it reminds her of raising her own four children there.

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