A host whose Ukrainian sponsor has only just had her UK visa approved after almost two months said the delay impacted his “whole life” and left him feeling “stressed and nervous”.
Marcin Zawisza, a Polish-born social worker from Edinburgh, said he is worried about Olena Stadnik, 33, who has been stuck near the Russian-occupied city of Kherson in southern Ukraine and now faces a possible trip through Russia to escape.
The 40-year-old has been a family friend of Ms Stadnik for two decades and applied to the Government’s Homes For Ukraine scheme to offer her his spare room.
Despite applying on March 18, the day the scheme was launched, Mr Zawisza had to wait 40 days for Ms Stadnik’s visa bid to be approved.
“Having to wait all this time for the email saying it’s been accepted has affected me, so I can’t even imagine how it felt for Olena,” Mr Zawisza told the PA news agency.
“I’m sitting in Edinburgh in a country where there is no war but even I was so stressed and nervous. It’s had an impact on my work and my whole life.
“Olena was very happy when she got the email with her visa but, to be honest, I wasn’t as happy as I thought I would be because we were waiting for so long.
“We reapplied and our second application was successful but there are people who are still waiting and can’t reapply because they will have to travel far and spend money they don’t have to get to a visa centre.”
After reapplying on April 19, Ms Stadnik’s visa was eventually accepted on Tuesday April 26 – with the original application approved a day later.
There have been 74,700 applications under the sponsorship scheme as of Wednesday, with 51,300 visas issued, official figures show.
As of Monday, 11,110 refugees had arrived in the UK under the scheme (21.6% of those with visas).
A Government spokesman said: “We are processing thousands of visas a day – this shows the changes we made to streamline the service are working and we’ll continue to build on this success so we can speed up the process even further.”
Ms Stadnik was forced to flee Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, after her home was bombed.
She travelled south and has been “moving around a lot” in the region near Kherson – a city Russia claimed control over in early March.
Her exact route out of Ukraine has yet to be decided, Mr Zawisza said, but she is considering passing through Russia or Crimea before heading to Britain via Istanbul in Turkey.
“Travelling to Poland is not even an option because to go from where Olena is … would be a death sentence,” Mr Zawisza said.
“The first time she suggested travelling through Russia I thought she was crazy, but she said (the Russians) are actually quite happy if Ukrainians are coming to Russia.
“People are also trying to escape via Crimea and are being interrogated, which sounds scary, but they basically have to say where they are going and have their phones checked.
“We don’t call each other because we can’t trust anything and all the conversations we do have over an app called Telegram are deleted within a few minutes, just in case.”