British nationals in Ukraine have expressed fear that they will be permanently separated from their Ukrainian families if they leave the country and return to the UK, while others have told of the difficulty in getting a visa.
Mike Haley, 61, an English teacher and translator who has lived in Kyiv since 2005, says he will remain in the capital with his wife, Ala, regardless of advice from the government that all British nationals should leave.
“I wouldn’t leave my wife,” Haley said. “I just don’t trust this government to behave normally – I have no faith that we would be reunited if I left. It feels like the entire system is rigged against people like us. If I go, I don’t know what I would be going into, so I’d prefer to just sit tight.”
Haley says he, his wife and his 80-year-old mother-in-law do not intend to leave their home.
“We’ve got supplies in, filled the bath in case of fires, taped up the windows, got clean water in containers and non-perishable foods. We were here during the Maidan Revolution. We’re prepared for what is to come.”
Michael Bosher, an English teacher, arrived back in the UK on Thursday having travelled overland for two days with his Ukrainian wife, Yulia, after she was issued a one-year emergency visa on Tuesday.
“I said I couldn’t leave without her, so we stayed until the last minute. As soon as the visa came through, we left,” Bosher said. “We got it in the nick of time. If it hadn’t arrived when it did, we would have been really stuck.”
“I would have expected more from the government,” he added. “We knew war was coming – it shouldn’t have been so difficult to get out.”
Bosher says he will now get a manual-labour job in the UK to ensure he meets the £18,600 minimum income requirement for his wife to stay.
On 17 February the Home Office announced new immigration concessions for family members of British nationals, temporarily waiving application fees for those eligible under the family migration route and granting entry for 12 months to those who do not meet the criteria. The department said that family visa decisions would be made within 24 hours of the applicant attending a biometric appointment.
On Thursday, the Home Office announced further visa changes for Ukrainians in the UK on work, study or visit visas, temporarily extending their visas and allowing those eligible to switch to different visa routes.
For unmarried couples, the situation is more complex. Jeremy Myers, 44, and his partner, Maria Romanenko, 29, applied for a visitor visa weeks ago. They aren’t married, so they are not eligible for a family visa.
“We haven’t been living together for two years and I don’t live in Ukraine full-time, so it’s very different for us,” Myers said. “Maria was charged £45 – a 50% premium – in order not to surrender her passport, just before the country went to war. That was considered a ‘special offer’ due to tough times.
“The other thing is that the visa might be rejected, despite always having had a visa for over fifteen years, it’s not guaranteed, even now.”
The couple planned to leave Kyiv on Friday to travel to Poland, where they would wait for the decision on Maria’s visa application.
Marta Mulyak, head of the London branch of Plast National Scout Organisation of Ukraine, also expressed frustration with the British visa application process, which she said had left her mother in limbo.
Mulyak, 39, said: “Although the British government said last week that Ukrainians can apply for visas in different centres in Ukraine, after paying £1,500 you’re only given the option to book the biometrics appointment, where they scan the iris and the fingerprints, in Kyiv. Going to Kyiv, even this Monday, was risky. Some people that I know went just for work and now they cannot leave because there’s bombing.
“So my mum’s visa application just ran out of time. And the application is bloody long. My mum had to provide her travel history for 10 years. It has been a real nightmare. I rang the helpline today, yesterday and the day before but they didn’t answer.”
Olesya Khromeychuk, director of cultural centre the Ukrainian Institute London, called on the UK government to open its borders to those fleeing from the Russian invasion.
“There will be refugees. We need to open our borders. This is our duty here. It’s a humanitarian crisis.”
If this was not an option, then ministers should review the “humiliating, lengthy and extremely expensive application process”, she added, to signal that Ukrainians are welcome.