Nanny in UK struggles to get brother out of Ukraine

British deputy prime minister said allowing refugees without a visa was not the 'right thing to do'

Nataliia Kolodii and her brother Viktor are in Warsaw after he fled Ukraine with hopes of joining her in the UK. PA

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As the number of people who have escaped the war in Ukraine topped 1.5 million on Sunday, a Ukrainian nanny living in the UK has told of her desperate struggle to get her 15-year-old brother out of their war-torn homeland.

Nataliia Kolodii flew to Warsaw on Friday and met her brother Viktor, who had embarked on an almost 24-hour journey from Kyiv via Lviv after his parents took the difficult decision for him to travel alone in the hope he could get to safety.

Earlier this week, the British government widened the entry rules for Ukrainian family members of UK residents but there are no plans to heed calls from MPs and charities to ditch visa requirements altogether.

Those joining family in Britain will be granted leave for an initial period of a year and will be able to work and have access to public funds.

Ms Kolodii, 37, who has lived in the UK for nine years and lives in Maidenhead, Berkshire, said that she and her brother felt “stuck” in Poland after she learnt her initial attempt to get a visa for him had not worked.

She described the visa process as “confusing” and said her friends in England were shocked to hear of her experience.

She said she called a number on the government website on Thursday and spoke to someone who assured her she would get confirmation about her brother’s visa within two days.

But she was shocked and upset to be told later this would not happen.

She said the process “should be more clear” and consideration given to the stress that people applying for the scheme were likely to be under.

The UK’s initial visa offer was restricted to immediate family but widened on Tuesday to include parents, grandparents and siblings, with applications opening on Friday as Home Secretary Priti Patel paid a visit to the Polish border with Ukraine.

Calls for the UK to adopt the EU’s visa-waiver policy for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict have so far been resisted with Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab saying on Sunday that support would be undermined for Ukraine if the UK let refugees in without visas.

Asked on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme about reports that 150 Ukrainian refugees had been turned away at Calais because they did not have a valid visa, Mr Raab said a visa waiver was not “the right thing to do".

“Look, if we just open the door not only will we not benefit the people that we need to, the genuine refugees, but I think we undermine the popular support for this very thing, so I don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” he said.

“We need to make sure that we’re acting for those that need our support.”

He said he expected up to 200,000 Ukrainians could come to the UK through the family dependents route and that “the humanitarian route, that is uncapped”.

“We’ll work with the United Nations and other agencies, but also individuals, business, charitable sponsors here, and that route for Ukrainians fleeing persecution is uncapped.” he said.

“And of course, we provided £220 million [$291m] of humanitarian support, which is directly for the Ukrainian people, but also for those countries taking refugees.”

The UK's Home Office said it had increased capacity to other countries including Hungary, Poland and Moldova, and that the combined total number of appointments in the region would increase to 6,000 from this coming week.

Updated: March 06, 2022, 1:44 PM