It has been two months since 16-year-old Vlad Ksheminskyi sent off the forms he hoped would trigger the start of a new life in Britain.
Vlad is one of hundreds of teenagers who applied to the Homes for Ukraine scheme having fled war without his parents. While the Home Office struggles to decide how to deal with cases like his, they have been left in limbo for weeks – and even months – with no decision.
“It is very difficult to be waiting, knowing that my parents are one and a half thousand miles away and our destiny is still unknown,” Vlad said. “It’s very hard.”
A keen student, Vlad was preparing for school exams when areas around his home town of Krasyliv in western Ukraine came under intense bombing. His mum, Marina, was scared for his life but, being unable to leave, she rang her best friend, Olesia Reviuk, to ask if she could help her son escape.
Reviuk, 43, recalled: “She was telling me that every day they could hear sirens and three or four times a day they would go down to the bomb shelter which was very cold, with no water. It was impossible to sleep there at night with the sirens going off.”
Reviuk did not hesitate. “I promised that I would take good care of Vlad,” she said. She arranged for him to join her and her two sons in Italy, to where she had fled in February. Then, with his parents’ blessing, she became his legal guardian.
The children spoke English and no Italian, so Reviuk applied under the Homes for Ukraine scheme at the earliest opportunity.
They were matched with Paul Hanlon, a GP from Lancaster, his wife, Rebecca Shepherd, an anatomy lecturer, and their two young children. The British family quickly made ready two large spare bedrooms and a separate living room, assuming the group would soon be arriving.
Instead, two months have gone by while Reviuk and the children wait in a cramped rented room in a flat in Modena, Italy.
Reviuk said: “Living in one bedroom with two teenage boys and one small child who wakes up at night and is also sometimes sick is very difficult for us.”
Hanlon, 42, said: “It’s so frustrating to think that they could have been enjoying the space and support on offer here, but instead we’ve all been spending hundreds of hours battling with bureaucracy that seems to have been set up to deflect rather than to protect those fleeing this brutal conflict.”
Hanlon is in touch with about 40 other sponsors in similar situations, all despairing at the same impasse. “The government’s broad answer to most questions on the subject, ‘because of safeguarding’, is a cynical use of this term to avoid having to deal with the most vulnerable group affected by this war.”
Given that Vlad is travelling with a legal guardian, his case should be one of the straightforward ones. But it appears to have made no difference.
“I do not understand the logic of safeguarding me because in my country there is a war and there is no worse security situation for me than staying there,” Vlad said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me what safeguarding issues the government could have, when we have all the documents in place and Olesia is a family friend who has legal guardianship?”
The Home Office has been sent a “letter before claim” over the families’ case, threatening judicial review. Vlad’s lawyer, Simon Robinson, said: “The delay in even providing a decision while keeping the family in the dark demonstrates that the secretary of state has failed to make an adequate policy to meet the promises she has made. She is turning her back on some of the most vulnerable people fleeing the conflict, children.”
For Vlad, the waiting means uncertainty over his education. He has only a week left to tell the Ukrainian authorities which country he will be in to take his exams remotely and is unsure what to put. He also wants to apply to university.
Reviuk said: “The UK government is taking the future away from Vlad. He’s a very talented boy. He reads a lot, he wants to study. And right now we just do not see the future.”
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( Information from theguardian.com was used in this report. To Read More, click here )