The UK’s flagship plan to welcome Ukrainians has been called “heartless and inhumane” after visa officials required a six-month-old baby to go through security 800 miles from home before allowed to fly to the UK.
Five weeks ago, Olga Kolisnyk applied to bring her two children – Illia, 11, and baby, Maria – from their home in war-torn Kharkiv to the UK but the process has been tied up in red tape.
Kolisnyk, a university professor, was initially told by UK officials that her young daughter would be allowed to travel because she had been added to her mother’s Ukrainian passport.
But two days later, she was informed by visa officials in Sheffield that this would no longer be accepted – and that Maria would have to have a biometric scan 800 miles away in Warsaw before they could fly to the UK.
The request was criticized as “a scandal” on Sunday when the Guardian revealed more examples of UK bureaucracy preventing Ukrainians from fleeing to safety. These include:
The families applied almost five weeks ago but are still waiting for UK visas, even though the government has promised to approve them within 48 hours.
At least 14 cases, involving nine adults and five children, where visas were approved but applicants were not notified. A family with a five-year-old boy was waiting in Kharkiv when the rocket crashed because they were not told they were allowed to fly to Britain.
An 11-year-old boy waited too long for his passport to expire – so UK officials asked him to restart the process and go to Warsaw for a biometric scan.
Only 6,600 Ukrainians arrived in the UK in the five weeks since the Houses for Ukraine scheme was launched, representing about 10 per cent of applicants. The government said it had ramped up visa processing in recent days and announced that some applicants are choosing to stay in neighboring countries so they can return to Ukraine more quickly.
But leading charities, including the Refugee Council and the British Red Cross, have said the bureaucracy involved has “caused great suffering to already traumatized Ukrainians”. .
Kate Larmer, who co-founded a group of dozens of Ukrainians with families in Surrey, said the UK has failed those in dire need: “It’s a scandal. We have families that may have moved to safety a long time ago.”
Speaking from a village outside Kharkiv, which was heavily bombed by Russia again last weekend, Kolisnyk said she feared for their lives.
“While I am still in Ukraine, I will not feel safe,” she said. I heard somewhere not far from us the noise of bombs and bullets and I was worried for my family and especially my children. My only wish is to get visas for me and my son and for Maria – that is my only wish”.
Kolisnyk, 38, who taught economics at Kharkiv national radio-electronics university before the war, said she was terrified to make the day-long journey to Warsaw without any guarantees. that the visa will be approved and have to go back 800 miles. journey into Ukraine.
She said: “I am worried that I will go to Poland to go to the Cauldron [Visa Application Centre] and in the end they will refuse and then what will i do? That is my biggest fear.
“Very, very stressful because of this uncertainty. I don’t know how long we will wait. I would say I want the UK to make this process easier, especially if people want to travel with young children like my daughter.”
Kolisnyk and her children are living with relatives in a small house on the outskirts of Kharkiv, bordering the area where Vladimir Putin’s forces launched a new offensive last week.
Her sponsors are Andy Le Roux, a church pastor, and his wife, Kate Le Roux, of Odiham, Hampshire. “It’s heartless and inhumane,” said Kate Le Roux, a biomedical scientist.
Le Roux, 45, said she was moved to tears after government officials “rudely” refused to clarify the matter and even suggested that the family seek refuge in a country with good weather. than England.
A government spokesman said: “In response to Putin’s barbaric invasion, we have launched one of the fastest and largest visa schemes in UK history. In just five weeks, more than 56,000 visas have been issued so people can rebuild their lives in the UK through Families Ukraine and Homes for Ukraine.
“Our Ukraine plans have reached a turning point, thanks to the changes we have made to streamline the visa system, including simplifying forms and increasing staffing. About 3,500 applications have been processed every day for the past few days, allowing thousands more Ukrainians to pass through our untapped routes.”