Warm welcome in Ireland, but UK's visa scheme leaves Ukrainian boy in limbo

Teenager is stranded in Dublin after escaping the war in Lviv

Dr Anton Enright, left, with his nephew Viktor, centre, and his girlfriend Tatyana Lapa. The three flew from Poland to Dublin and are waiting on a British visa for Viktor. Photo: Anton Enright

When 15-year-old Viktor landed in Ireland after fleeing Ukraine his passport was stamped and he was handed a piece of paper by a border officer.

Written in Ukrainian and English, it read: “Welcome to Ireland. You are safe and we are here to help.”

It was a moment full of relief, and his family fully expected that the next part of his journey, from Dublin on to Cambridge in England, would be a simple process.

However, they had not factored in the UK government's determination to adhere to paperwork.

Dr Anton Enright, a Cambridge professor who was trying to bring his teenage Ukrainian nephew Viktor to the UK under the family reunion scheme has said the “incredibly complicated” paperwork required is a stark contrast to the warm welcome the boy received in Ireland.

Dr Enright is one of the many British citizens caught up in the intricacies of the Home Office’s programme, which has been criticised as being too bureaucratic.

After flying to Poland with his girlfriend, Tatyana Lapa, the professor, 46, met up with his sister-in-law Svitlana, 38, and her two traumatised sons.

She took the decision to hand the boys over to the couple “having spent several days making a treacherous and difficult journey”, and returned to her parents in Lviv. She has had to remain in the city because of the nature of her job, the details of which have not been revealed for safety reasons.

Fifteen-year-old Viktor on a flight to Dublin after fleeing the war in Ukraine. Photo: Anton Enright

Dr Enright heard from his family in Ireland that the EU and Ireland were offering a visa waiver, so he decided to fly Viktor to Ireland and to try to apply for a British visa there. The whereabouts of the second boy were not immediately made clear.

But a week on from his journey, the boy is still in limbo in Dublin because of issues with the Ukraine Family Scheme.

“[Viktor and his mum] spent the previous three nights going up and down to air raid shelters because they were staying near Lviv, which was under missile attack,” Dr Enright, a professor in the pathology department at the University of Cambridge, told the PA news agency.

“So there was a very tearful exchange on the Ukrainian border on March 3.”

He said that arriving in Dublin airport was “probably the best part of the whole experience” where they passed through the airport within five minutes, stamped Viktor’s passport and gave him the piece of paper with the bilingual welcome message.

The reception was a stark contrast to the battle to get Viktor a British visa.

Dr Enright said making an application under the UK’s Ukraine Family Scheme so that his nephew could be with family involved “incredibly complicated” paperwork.

Home Secretary Priti Patel set up the programme to allow Ukrainian refugees to travel to the UK to live with their family members who are British citizens or UK-settled persons. The scheme was expanded from it original form to allow wider relatives to qualify and from next week is expected to include non-family members.

“It took us an hour to work out whether or not he was eligible,” Dr Enright said.

“It is a lot of work to have to fill out three forms. And then we were finally told we needed to book an appointment at the visa application centre in Dublin.

“And when we go to that website, there are no appointments available. When you phone the British embassy in Dublin, they pass you around to other phone numbers,” he said.

After turning up at the visa application centre in Dublin on a whim on Monday, March 7, Viktor’s photo and fingerprints were taken and all the paperwork needed for the application was packaged and sent to the UK, with Viktor and Dr Enright being told that the application would be processed between 24 and 48 hours.

But on Thursday Dr Enright said there were no signs he was any closer to getting a visa.

Dr Enright has had to return to his home in Cambridge while his girlfriend stays in an airport hotel in Dublin with Viktor.

“We’ve had no update and we are basically living in a life of limbo with a traumatised 15-year-old boy, who just wants to come to Cambridge – a place he’s been many times – to sit and play with his cousins and to be with his family again,” he said.

“This is a boy who’s been through a lot. He’s been in air raid shelters and had to make a difficult trip to Poland, he’s terrified about what’s happening to his family in Ukraine.”

Dr Enright said that he and his partner’s “work life is on hold” because they are both on compassionate leave and feel “deeply let down” by the visa process.

He said that the people of Cambridgeshire and beyond have offered him lots of support, with Coton FC U15s offering to let Viktor play or train with their team because of his love for the game.

Ministers are under fire over the sluggish pace of processing visas for Ukrainians fleeing war.

Almost 2.4 million people have left the war zone since Russia invaded two weeks ago, according to figures from the UN’s refugee agency on Friday.

So far only 760 Ukrainians have been granted visas for the UK.

A UK government representative said new rules make it easier for people with Ukrainian passports to obtain visas.

“We have expanded our visa application capacity to 13,000 a week, deployed additional staff across the EU, with a 24/7 helpline in place to ensure those who need appointments can get them to come here. This allows us to balance security risks while welcoming those in need,” the representative said.

Updated: March 11, 2022, 12:26 PM