Reverend Jenny Kilgour hosted Viktoria Koval on language exchange visits and wants to once again welcome the law student to her home. But – even though she has the written consent of her parents – Viktoria is barred from taking part in the Homes for Ukraine scheme because she has not yet turned 18 and would not be coming to the UK to reunite with a parent or legal guardian.
Clive Betts, who chairs the Westminster Levelling Up committee which scrutinises how the UK is supporting Ukrainian refugees, said he hoped the “Home Office would actually get this sorted” and help people such as Viktoria who are in “dire circumstances” but have “a loving home to come to” in the UK.
He had a clear message for Viktoria, who is from Vinnytsia, south west of Kyiv, and has had to take shelter in her family’s basement.
He said: “I think a lot of people in the UK will be thinking about you, thinking about the trauma and the struggle you have gone through and wishing we could offer you the home that you obviously need and want.”
Attacking the Government, he said: “I think the scheme is dysfunctional. This is a very moving case but unfortunately there are very many of them.
“It is not just an individual problem. It is a [systemic] problem that needs rectifying.
“We are getting so many stories of people [who] have got someone to go to, they make contact, they know the person, and there’s an awful hold-up with the visas in a way that isn’t happening in other countries.”
He had little doubt where blame lay, saying: “If something is going to go wrong, the Home Office is probably behind it…
“Even we struggle to get through to the Home Office, I have to say. It is so difficult with their systems.”
Former immigration minister Caroline Nokes said the visas rules were causing “enormous upset and frustration” .
She said: “I am very conscious that there are a number of young Ukrainians seeking to come to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Indeed, I am aware of one in my own constituency, but the guidance I have been given from the Home Office is they are not eligible unless reuniting with a parent or guardian.
“It has caused enormous upset and frustration here, in some instances sponsors being able to offer a home to one young person but not their sibling.
“It is important that the scheme is with the joint agreement of the UK and Ukrainian Governments and Ukraine has been pretty clear on this issue. But it does strike me that there needs to be an element of discretion available.”
The Ukrainian Embassy has said that if the right permissions are secured then minors can “travel out of Ukraine during martial law”.
However, a Government spokeswoman said: “Due to safeguarding concerns, unaccompanied minors are only eligible under the Homes for Ukraine scheme if they are reuniting with a parent or legal guardian in the UK. There are no plans to make those trying to sponsor unaccompanied children ‘guardians’.”
Conservative MP Ben Everitt stressed that the issue of unaccompanied minors is “delicate and complicated” and work was underway across the Government to address individual cases.
He said: “We can be rightly 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 pleased to be able to help the Home Office process her visa to get her and her daughter here.
“When it comes to unaccompanied minors, the situation is obviously very delicate and complicated. We know many young people require special support and we’re 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.”