A British man is urging the government to relax visa rules to help him and others get their family members out of Ukraine.
Alan Mills, a 50-year old British citizen, told Sky News his Ukrainian mother-in-law is trapped in the country and he and his wife Olya are desperately trying to help her reach the UK.
Nadya Solop, 67, left her flat in Zhytomyr to escape artillery fire and is currently staying in a village nearby with one of her friends.
He said the UK government is asking for extra documents that she cannot access because it is too dangerous for her to return to her home.
He said there are checkpoints in place and she can hear the shelling nearby.
“There’s no way of getting back there to get the documents, so she’s stuck,” he said.
‘The last thing refugees are thinking about is paperwork’
Under current rules Ukrainians who live or are settled in the UK are able to bring over their spouses, children, and – only if they are under 18 – their parents. This does not apply to siblings, adult children or grandparents.
Ms Solop is not eligible under these rules but Mr Mills hopes to at least get her a family visit visa – which is proving to be cumbersome.
He urged the government: “Please, please, please relax your visa process, please just help.
“We’re willing to do anything once we get here. Whatever you need we will supply, we will give you every bit of information you require, but at the moment It’s just physically impossible to do because people are just fleeing their homes to safety. The last thing they’re thinking about is paperwork.”
Their best option right now is to try to get Ms Solop to a border safely so she can go to a British consulate in another country and apply for her visa there.
She doesn’t drive so they are trying to use social media groups to see if she can go to Poland or Moldova with others who are travelling.
“Trying to find somebody, that’s the hardest bit because you can’t go out,” he said. “It’s just the fear of being attacked … There are Russians around the area, so people are genuinely afraid to go out. My mother-in-law is afraid to go out but we have to find a way to get her out.”
He said they are “lucky we can still keep in contact via the telephone”.
“Our fear is that if communications go down, we’re just completely lost,” he said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do then.”
‘A horrendous fee’
Nataliya Rumyantseva is having similar problems trying to secure a visa for her mother, 69-year-old Valentyna Klymova.
Ms Klymova crossed the border from Ukraine to Hungary and then flew to Paris to meet her mother, where they are grappling with a slow and bureaucratic process.
After a lot of confusion, they have now applied for a standard visitor’s visa – their only option – which came with what she described as a “horrendous fee”.
The family was told that a fast-track, next-working-day visa costs €1,312 (£1,100), while a five-day processing visa costs €394 (£329) – plus a €120 (£100) appointment fee.
Ms Klymova did not qualify for the fee waiver recently announced by the Home Office because she is not a British citizen.
‘A lot of hypocrisy’
Ms Rumyantseva welcomed Home Secretary Priti Patel’s announcement that a new visa option is being developed – but when she asked the British consulate she was told mechanisms have not yet been put in place to take applications.
“It’s exhausting,” she told Sky News. “The most exhausting thing for me is that we’ve been promised one thing and then something else happens instead. There seems to be a lot of hypocrisy.”
Asked what her message to Ms Patel was, she urged her to implement changes to the visa rules more quickly.
“My mom was stressed just over the fact that she had to flee and now she’s not been able to settle,” she said. “Please appreciate the urgency of it. And be more generous – be more generous with my mom but also with others who are yet to come.”
Yesterday Ms Patel said she would not be introducing a visa waiver for those fleeing Ukraine, citing fears that Russian troops and extremists could try to come to the UK.
The Home Office said they have confirmed the first phase of a “bespoke humanitarian route for the people of Ukraine”, which will allow British nationals and Ukrainians who are permanently settled in the UK to bring their Ukrainian family to the UK.
It said the plans could see the UK welcome up to 100,000 people and applications are being processed in “just hours”.