A Ukrainian mother and daughter who escaped from their home near a frontline of the conflict with Russia have been forced to return there due to delays in processing their UK visa applications.
Olha Kachurenko, 43, a nurse and laboratory worker, and her 13-year-old daughter, Marharyta, fled their home in the southern city of Mykolaiv, not far from Russian-occupied Kherson, on March 18, weeks after the start of the war.
Once in Poland, they applied for the UK Homes for Ukraine program on March 23.
“We started hearing rumors that the Russians also wanted to attack neighboring countries, so we decided to try to get as far away as possible,” Olha Kachurenko said. “I opened the internet and saw information about the UK Homes for Ukraine scheme.”
Lee Mitchell, 49, a property developer from Cumbria, saw their plea for help and offered to put the mother and daughter up.
He said: “I have since been told I was not a suitable sponsor as a single gentleman so I have arranged for them to live in a separate property which I own about 45 minutes drive from home and reapplied their visas.”
But six months into the war, visas for Kachurenko and her daughter have still not been approved.
Mitchell initially funded the family’s accommodation in Poland, assuming it would only be a few weeks before visas were approved. But after weeks that stretched into months, it became more difficult to continue funding housing, and on May 30 the family decided they had no choice but to return to their ninth-floor home. of a building in Mykolaiv.
“I think the UK is a very good country for Ukrainians, but our visas have been delayed for a very long time,” Kachurenko said. “There are bombs all around us. I hope and pray that we have a second chance to leave Mykolaiv and reach safety in the UK.
Mitchell said: “My grandmother came to the UK from Poland after World War II, so I feel an emotional attachment to the area. I became close to the family and would never forgive myself if anything happened to them. I wanted to give the family some dignity by giving them a home, but instead they found themselves in a war zone.
“They are traumatized and live in terror. The mental stress they are under is unbearable. They desperately seek security and peace. I can’t get any help or response from the visa people. It’s been going on for months. I think it’s totally inhuman to treat these people like this.
A government spokesperson said: “Over 75,900 people have arrived safely in the UK through our Homes for Ukraine scheme. It is right that we have security checks in place to ensure the safety of Ukrainians arriving in the UK. »
The problems came at a time when the government has admitted it may need to consider alternatives to the reception program to accommodate Ukrainian refugees. Government sources said: “We are currently investigating whether mass accommodation offers may be required for emergency or longer-term accommodation.”
Kate Brown, chief executive of the charity Reset Communities and Refugees, which provides a matching, training and support service Homes for Ukraine, said: “Following the initial surge of interest in hosting people from Ukraine, we have seen a drop in the number of new sponsors who come forward.Some sponsors have postponed welcoming people during school holidays.
She urged more people to come forward as hosts.