A Ukrainian woman and her 15-year-old diabetic daughter say they are feeling increasingly distraught after escaping the conflict in Ukraine only to be blocked from a visa the UK government announced on Sunday evening for which they are eligible.
Yakiv Voloshchuk, 60, a British citizen, rescued his wife, Oksana Voloshchuk, 41, and their daughter, Veronika, from Poland on 26 February.
He drove from his home in London to the Polish border and waited for them to get across Ukraine’s border with Poland. He then did a return 24-hour journey by road across Europe before reaching Paris on Sunday where he hoped he would get the green light from British officials to bring his wife and daughter on the last leg of the journey to the UK.
The family hoped it would be straightforward to reach the UK, especially after the publication of new Home Office guidance giving permission for some immediate family members of British citizens to apply free of charge to join their loved ones in the UK.
But when Oksana and Veronika tried to apply for the new visa online they were blocked from proceeding unless they paid thousands of pounds, even though the application is supposed to be free.
“We just don’t know what to do,” Yakiv Voloshchuk told the Guardian on Monday morning. “My wife’s bank account in Ukraine is frozen. We have booked into a hotel in Paris for a couple of days but I want to bring my family back to the UK to my home in London. We are getting very worried about my daughter because she is type 1 diabetic and is running out of insulin. We also don’t have a lot of money for food. She needs to eat regularly.
“We went to Calais yesterday to try to cross to UK but we were refused permission and told to go to the visa centre in Paris. But when we tried to apply online the application says we need to pay £2,200 each and medical charges. The embassy is saying they can’t help. I am very worried about my daughter and I don’t understand why we have not been allowed to reach the UK.”
Nataliya Rumyantseva who is also in Paris with her mother who crossed the border from Ukraine to Hungary and then flew to Paris in the hope of reaching the UK, is also struggling with the system. Unlike the Voloshchuks, her mother, Valentyna Klymova, does not qualify for the free visa under the new rules announced by the government on Sunday evening.
Both families have been sent to various different places across Paris on Monday – from the UK’s visa processing centre, to the British embassy, then to the British consulate. They have now been told they need to go to another place where the UK visa team is located.
All say they are completely exhausted from their journeys and are struggling with bureaucracy at a time when they are traumatised by war in Ukraine.
“I’m feeling so helpless,” said Rumyantseva. “We know the source of all our problems is what Russia has done but dealing with all of this as well makes us feel like we are in a psychological pressure chamber.”
A government spokesperson said: “This country has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it. We are working around the clock to process visa applications and are processing many applications in a matter of hours.
“We are working with other European countries to ensure that responses to any migration issues are practical and in the best interests of the Ukrainian people.”