Reverend Jenny Kilgour has hosted Viktoria Koval on language exchange visits and is keen to welcome the law student back into her home. But – even though she has her parents’ written consent – Viktoria cannot take part in the Homes for Ukraine program as she is not yet 18 and would not come to the UK to reunite with a parent or legal guardian.
Clive Betts, who chairs the Westminster Leveling Up committee which is looking at how the UK supports Ukrainian refugees, said he hoped the ‘Home Office would sort this out’ and help people like Viktoria who are in dire straits. “difficult circumstances” but who have “a loving home to come to” in the UK.
He had a clear message for Viktoria, who is from Vinnytsia, southwest of kyiv, and had to take refuge in her family’s basement.
He said: ‘I think a lot of people in the UK will think of you, think of the trauma and struggle you’ve been through and wish we could give you the home you clearly need and want.
Attacking the government, he said: “I think the regime is dysfunctional. It is a very moving case but unfortunately there are very many of them.
“It’s not just an individual problem. It’s a [systemic] problem that needs to be corrected.
“We get so many stories from people [who] have someone to go to, they make contact, they know the person, and there’s a huge backlog with visas in a way that doesn’t happen in other countries.
He had little doubt of fault, saying: “If anything goes wrong, the Home Office is probably behind it…
“Even we have trouble getting to the Home Office, I have to say. It’s so difficult with their systems.
Former immigration minister Caroline Nokes said the visa rules were causing “huge upset and frustration”.
She said: “I am very aware that a number of young Ukrainians are looking to come to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Indeed, I know of one in my own constituency, but the advice I have received from the Home Office is that they are not eligible unless they can trace a parent or guardian.
“It has caused enormous upheaval and frustration here, in some cases sponsors have been able to offer accommodation to a young person but not to their brother.
“It is important that the program is concluded with the joint agreement of the British and Ukrainian governments and that Ukraine has been quite clear on this issue. But it strikes me that there must be an element of discretion available.
The Ukrainian embassy said that if the correct permissions are obtained, minors can “exit Ukraine during martial law”.
However, a government spokeswoman said: “Due to safeguarding issues, unaccompanied minors are only eligible for the Homes for Ukraine scheme if they are reunited with a parent or legal guardian in the UK. It is not intended to make those who try to sponsor unaccompanied children “guardians”.
Tory MP Ben Everitt stressed that the issue of unaccompanied minors is “delicate and complicated” and that work was underway within government to deal with individual cases.
He said: “We can be rightly proud of how our communities opened their arms to Ukrainians fleeing Russian brutality. In Milton Keynes, families have welcomed refugees like Lidia Vynogradna and her daughter into their homes.
“Lidia is a former Ukrainian gymnast and has judged gymnastics at several Olympics. I was delighted to be able to help the Home Office process her visa for her and her daughter to come here.
“With regard to unaccompanied minors, the situation is obviously very delicate and complicated. We know that many young people need special support and we are working across government to see what we can do to help individual cases.
“As a nation, we have thrown our arms around our Ukrainian friends with love and compassion.”