Reverend Jenny Kilgour hosted Viktoria Koval on language exchange visits and wants to welcome the law student back to her home. But – even though she has the written consent of her parents – Viktoria is not allowed to participate in the Homes for Ukraine program because she has not yet turned 18 and would not come to the UK to reunite with a parent or legal guardian.
Clive Betts, chair of the Westminster Leveling Up committee investigating how the UK supports Ukrainian refugees, said he hoped the “Home Office would really solve this” and help people like Viktoria who are in “serious circumstances” but ” a loving home to come to” in the UK.
He had a clear message for Viktoria, who comes from Vinnytsia, southwest of Kiev, and had to take shelter in her family’s basement.
He said: “I think a lot of people in the UK will think of you, of the trauma and struggle you went through and wish we could provide you with the home you clearly need and want.”
He attacked the government, saying: “I think the scheme is dysfunctional. This is a very moving thing, but unfortunately there are a lot of them.
“It’s not just an individual problem. It is a [systemic] problem that needs to be resolved.
“We get so many stories from people [who] have someone to go to, they connect, they know the person, and there’s a terrible delay with the visas in a way that doesn’t happen in other countries.”
He had little doubt as to where the blame lay, saying: “If something goes wrong, the Interior Ministry is probably behind it…
‘Even we have trouble getting through to the Ministry of the Interior, I must say. It’s so hard with their systems.”
Former immigration minister Caroline Nokes said the visa rules caused “tremendous dismay and frustration”.
She said: “I am very aware that there are a number of young Ukrainians who want to come to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine programme. I do know of one in my own constituency, but according to the advice of the Department of the Interior, they are not eligible unless they are reunited with a parent or guardian.
“It has caused a lot of dismay and frustration here, in some cases sponsors were able to offer a home to a young person, but not to their sibling.
“It is important that the settlement is with the joint agreement of the British and Ukrainian governments and Ukraine has been quite clear on this issue. But it does strike me that there has to be an element of discretion.”
The Ukrainian embassy has said that if the proper permissions are obtained, minors can leave Ukraine during martial law.
However, a government spokeswoman said: “Due to security concerns, unaccompanied minors are only eligible for the Homes for Ukraine program if they are reunited with a parent or legal guardian in the UK. There are no plans to make those who try to sponsor unaccompanied minors ‘guardians’.”
Conservative MP Ben Everitt stressed that the issue of unaccompanied minors is “delicate and complicated” and work is underway across the government to address individual cases.
He said: “We can be justifiably proud of how our communities have 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 Olympic Games. I was happy to help the Ministry of the Interior process her visa to get her and her daughter here.
“When it comes to unaccompanied minors, the situation is of course very delicate and complicated. We know that many young people need special support and we are working with all of government to see what we can do to help individual cases.
“As a nation, we have wrapped our arms around our Ukrainian friends with love and compassion.”