Truth behind tragic death of Ukrainian refugee in Devon

-Credit: (Image: Devon and Cornwall Police)
-Credit: (Image: Devon and Cornwall Police)

A 14-year-old Ukrainian refugee who moved to Devon with her mum for their safety is believed to have tragically died after going for an evening walk alone and falling from the edge of a path along a sea wall without any railings or lighting. A coroner has now urged Network Rail to 'carefully consider' its actions to prevent further fatalities following previous deaths.

Albina Yevko, who lived at Piermont Place in Dawlish and attended Dawlish Community College, was reported missing on March 4, 2023, after failing to return home, sparking a huge search. She was later located motionless on the beach between Dawlish and Dawlish Warren at 11.45pm by a police helicopter using thermal imaging.

The RNLI and coastguards attended the scene. She was unconscious and breathing but then went into cardiac arrest and was taken by air ambulance to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital where she died on March 5, 2023, at 7am.

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An inquest into her death, held at Exeter Coroner’s Court today, June 18, heard she died of multiple injuries, including to her spinal cord and neck, which were in keeping with a fall from height. No alcohol or drugs were detected.

Pathologist Dr Deborah Cook confirmed a delay in paramedics reaching Albina due to deliberations about whether to move her by boat or helicopter to hospital 'made no difference to the outcome' of her condition due to the 'extensive severity' of her injuries.

Detective inspector Becky Davies, head of public protection with Devon and Cornwall Police and senior investigating officer in the case, told how Albina was located face down on the beach and was wet but her hair was dry and her clothes ‘dishevelled’ indicating she likely fell when the tide was in.

A vigil was held on March 13 in memory of Albina Yevko, who died after being found unconscious on Dawlish beach on March 4 -Credit:Submitted
A vigil was held on March 13 in memory of Albina Yevko, who died after being found unconscious on Dawlish beach on March 4 -Credit:Submitted

CCTV footage obtained from parts of the town confirmed she had been on her own and was said to have looked ‘relatively happy’ and that suicide seemed ‘highly unlikely’ due to the height of the old sea wall which was above head height. However, it remains unknown how or why she came to fall.

DI Davies said: “We concluded she lost the edge of the wall in the dark falling from it causing catastrophic injuries.”

She added that as it was not known when she fell, it was not possible to say whether she had been on her phone at the time.

Describing the location where she fell, she said: “There is a cliff edge, railway lines and little wall to separate the main sea wall where people walk from Dawlish to Dawlish Warren. It has no barrier, no lighting and no markings as to where the edge is.”

The wall is owned by Network Rail which undertakes regular inspections and any necessary repairs. Reference was made to its last completed risk assessment carried out in 2015.

Records from 1966 to 2010 state there were seven fatalities during that period, the first being in 1974 and the last being in 1996. Since Albina’s death, there have been no further fatalities, but it was said there had been three accidents along the sea wall.

Among the recommendations made in the 2015 review was providing signage across the length of the sea wall. Robert Warren, head of route safety, health and environment for Network Rail, said it believed Teignbridge District Council had responsibility for signage and conceded ‘limited progress’ had been made.

In terms of railings, he said erosion and limited depth in the old seawall structure were reasons for them not being fitted as it could have presented ‘a potentially new worse risk’.

He added white edging lines painted in the ‘90s eroded within two years but agreed that improved lighting or a white line on the wall would have mitigated the risk of Albina’s death.

Mr Warren confirmed a detailed new risk assessment is being carried out and accepted it was taking a long time but said it was ‘due to the level of detail’ and other solutions were being explored.

He said a draft of the report is anticipated in the next week or so followed by a consultation period in July.

When asked by a representative of the family, Daniel Pooley, if he believed as a professional that the decision made by Network Rail not to install the railways was the right thing, Mr Warren said: “Ultimately, yes.”

The inquest heard from different services involved that lessons had been learned following the incident which were welcomed by Albina’s family. South Western Ambulance Service Federation Trust listed 11 recommendations that had been made following an internal investigation.

In a statement, Albina's mum Inna told how they had moved from Ukraine to Dawlish on April 27, 2022, and initially stayed with a host family until early December when they moved into their own flat in the town. She described Albina as having a love of drawing, online gaming and had recently started going for walks on her own as she had been worried about her weight.

She added she had a small group of school friends and seemed happy.

Inna said: "She was not that sociable and preferred to be on her own, but at the same time she would try and help people. For example, she would try and cheer people up if they were feeling sad."

She added: “We used to talk all the time about how we were feeling. We talked just a few days before she died and she said she was happy here and liked her friends and school. She understood school better here than she did back in Ukraine."

On the day she went missing, she recalled Albina had helped her make pancakes and later set off for a walk at around 6pm for a walk around Dawlish.

At 7pm she said Albina rang her saying she was walking along the seafront from Dawlish to Dawlish Warren and on the way back she would go to the park in Dawlish.

She recalled: “I told her to be careful. At 7.26pm I called her back. I dont know why I did but she didn't answer.”

When she failed to return home and still wasn’t answering her phone Albina was reported missing to the police by Inna's friend at around 8.45pm.

A friend Albina was texting during the walk said in a statement she had no concerns about Albina when they were messaging. She said: “She seemed her normal self by her messages and nothing rang alarm bells for me.”

The inquest heard that due to the location of the incident, it made it challenging for emergency services.

Recording a conclusion of accidental death, Alison Longhorn, area coroner for Exeter and Greater Devon, said: "It is likely Albina was walking along the sea wall when she fell to the beach below sustaining those injuries."

Regarding her powers to issue a Prevention of Future Deaths report, Mrs Longhorn said she was satisfied that although paramedics arrived eight minutes later than they should have due to location changes being discussed, the evidence confirmed it did not alter the outcome for Albina and that lessons had since been learned by the trust and coastguard service so that a similar situation does not arise again.

However, she confirmed she would be making recommendations to Network Rail in a Prevention of Future Deaths report. She urged Network Rail to 'carefully consider if action can be taken to reduce the risk of death' as it is clear that 'risk exists'. She also criticised Network Rail for having already taken 15 months to complete its latest risk assessment.