December 2, 2022

Alex o'Loughlin

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Woman closes her hotel to tourists so she can house Ukrainian refugees

A woman has closed her hotel to tourists so she can house Ukrainian refugees. Nitsa Michael is no longer taking guests apart from people fleeing the war with Russia.

The 84-year-old and her family fled from Cyprus to Britain following a Turkish invasion in 1974 and she said she wanted to do something to help people in the same horror situation. She has shut the doors to tourists at the hotel to provide a “home from home” for 22 Ukrainians.

Nitsa, a great-grandmother of five, said: “I felt for them – me and my family hope we’re helping them.” Her daughter Michelle Michael, 53, is in charge of running the hotel, which now has 22 refugees staying of a possible 70.

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Michelle told how Nitsa, a widow, insisted “lets help, lets help in a big way, this is what I want to do.” She 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 mobilised so they can go out and go into the community themselves.

“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 though 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.”

Nitsa left Cyprus for the UK in 1955 to marry Axentis, who had moved to the UK a few years earlier. The couple moved to London where Nitsa worked as a seamstress and Axentis a chef before eventually moving to the South West where they took over the Seaward Hotel in Weston-super-Mare. They made it their family home where they raised their four children.

Over the years several of Nitsa’s family also moved across to the UK as well. But in 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus, most of Axentis’ family who remained in Cyprus became refugees and were forced to flee their homes.

Michelle, who was a child at the time, said: “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.”

Nitsa and Axentis felt a duty to help out – and they took in around 16 refugees, some family and some strangers, who had nowhere else to go. Michelle said: “They did everything they could to help – they were always prepared to open their doors. It wasn’t something they even questioned.”

Eventually, some of Axentis’ family managed to get into the UK to rebuild their lives, while others relocated from the North to the South of Cyprus to do the same. The awful situation back then resonated with Nitsa, now 84, who saw the similarities between what her family faced and what those fleeing Ukraine are facing now.

The hotel shut during the pandemic and had only seen a trickle of local customers staying for work since re-opening. Michelle registered the hotel on the Homes For Ukraine scheme, and before they knew it, they were welcoming their first refugee.

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