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Street art with and eye and flag of Ukraine crying.

Street Artist My Dog Sighs created this image in Cardiff.

I did a “Live” on my insta yesterday and as I finished it, my instagram crashed and lost the video so I couldn’t save it to my stories… This is just indicative of everything that is going on right now 😭 So, I am going to share what’s been going on – this might be a long post and it has nothing to do with yarn…

I have been fairly quiet on social media in the last couple of weeks, firstly because I had COVID, but also because I have been working extremely hard on something else and it has been all-consuming.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, I like many others were horrified at the human tragedy unfolding. My husband and I decided almost immediately that we wanted to do something to help, so when the government announced their Homes For Ukraine scheme, I signed up immediately (well once the website stopped crashing) as did more than 150,000 other people. 

I know that in the grand scheme of things it will not make a huge difference, but I can’t imagine having to pack up my children, leave everything I have ever known, and say goodbye to my husband as he goes off to fight and defend his country against an aggressor with no sane reasoning or logic. I would want someone to help me if I were in that situation, and I desperately wanted to help a mother with children.

However, it soon became obvious that the government had no intention of actually helping match people with refugees, so like many others I joined a Facebook group, and on Wednesday 23rd, after a long zoom call with a family of 4 still in Kharkiv, I agreed to sponsor them. The mother Maria is in her 40s and she has a 19 year old daughter Sofiia who is studying English and English History at university, Nick who is 10 and Anastasia who is 5. 

We undertook the very lengthy and complex process of the visa application – the first of which took 6 hours! By the time we were completing them for the 5 and 10 year old (yes EACH FAMILY MEMBER NEEDS TO DO A COMPLETE AND SEPARATE APPLICATION!) we had got it down to about 2 hours per visa.

After clicking submit they were given a confirmation number which thank goodness we took a screenshot of… because no email confirmation of the application was sent – at all! I mean how easy is it to design a system that sends you a confirmation of your application along with a list of the documents you have uploaded…?

I have spent every day since then emailing my MP, the council, the Home Office.  I was on ITV news in our local area two days ago and I have been raising awareness through radio shows and any way I can. I have sent on average 15-20 emails each day trying to help them and get further information on when their applications might be processed.

I have rung the UK Visa Immigration (un)HelpLine a total of 6 times, and after being on hold for up to 1 hour, I have been given different and conflicting advice each time. However, with regards to actually giving me more information on the the applications, their answer is always the same “I’m sorry but we can not help you”.

Maria and her family did not want to leave Ukraine until the visas had been issued, and I completely understood why but each time I spoke with them I could hear gunfire and explosions which made the situation so much more real for me, and after 10 days we all agreed that they needed to leave and get to Poland.  I am lucky to have a friend who has family in Krakow, so I was able to source a flat for them to stay. The left last Saturday by train, and just 2 hours later, their town was bombed, cut off from electricity and water, and the train station was destroyed… Had they left it any later they wouldn’t have got out. One of the tactics of the Russian army to prevent people escaping is bombing railway lines and stations, which we saw yesterday in a town near Donetsk with catastrophic results.

Fast forward another week and whilst they are safe in Poland, we have still had no news about the visas. I continue to speak to Sofia every day (Maria’s English is not very good), and we have a bond that has surprised us both. I just want to get them here, but it is getting harder and harder to reassure them that this is just bureaucracy and red tape and the visas will be issued eventually, and I can see their hope fading 😢 

Our council has done our accommodation check, the DBS checks are in progress, but still no visa…

My MP and I are now on first name terms and he replies to each and every one of my emails – he is equally appalled and frustrated. Fortunately he has at least been able to assure me that all 4 applications are in progress, and he is chasing them every day too via the MP’s dedicated hotline. He is not someone I voted for and is part of a government I loathe, and even he is unable to get to the bottom of the shambles!

The UK’s response to this crisis is not only embarrassing it is a disgrace. We were initially told the visas would take on average 7 days, but we are now on day 17!! Priti Patel said in an interview yesterday that she is “frustrated at the slow response” – that was all she said – no reasons or solutions, just that she is frustrated! What about the tens of thousands of desperate people who have applied to come here, thinking their visas are imminent, and yet are kept waiting with no information on how long it will take??? Many of whom are either still in Ukraine, or are in being moved around temporary accommodations to make way for more refugees arriving…

I am ashamed that we are literally offering worse than nothing, because we are torturing people at a time when they have already lost everything and are deeply traumatised by their experiences. No wonder people are giving up and going elsewhere. 😢

Then low and behold, they, and apparently every other applicant waiting for visas, received the email above a couple of days ago. An insulting and badly written email that caused further panic because it also informed them that they needed to upload even more documentation (sponsors passport!)  to prevent delay!! Someone shared this edited copy in a Facebook group – which is fast turning into a support group for all the people in the same situation as us – doing everything we can, but actually achieving nothing.

There are 5 other families in our village all experiencing the same problems, and we were initially told the visas would take on average 7 days!! There are more than 43,000 visa applications waiting, and apparently 12,000 visas that have been granted under this scheme, but only 1,200 have actually come to the UK. Unfortunately this is in part due to the complete chaos of way that the visas being granted. Because as mentioned above, all applicants need to complete a full application, they are not linked, other than via the sponsor. This means that there are many many examples where only half the family’s visas have actually been granted, or perhaps one child is missing… What are they supposed to do – leave that child behind?? They are not able to travel until all the visas are issued, but because there is no “helpline” it is impossible to fix. The other reason is that simply many of the applicants have given up waiting and gone somewhere they feel they are wanted, 

So, while the visas are coming through there is no logic or coherence. I have a friend who applied for her family 4 days after I did, and they are now already here, and yet many who applied on 18th March when the scheme opened are still waiting for news, or worse still, their applications have been lost. It is a complete shambles. James O’Brien has raised awareness and discussed the fiasco many times on his show, but in his words, it is a system that has been “Designed to Fail”. The government want to be seen to be doing the right thing but the bottom line is, they do not want 150,000+ refugees, because it will upset their “targets”, so they’ve made it as hard as possible in the hope that people will give up trying… They’ve got back control of our borders and this is what it looks like…

Honestly, it is a joke! Albeit a very very unfunny one, and once again makes me ashamed to be British.

I hope I have happier news to share soon… Here are the family that I am desperately trying to help.

Please feel free to share your experiences

Abby x

 

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