Ukraine war: Britons forking out 'thousands of pounds' to help refugees get to the UK

·3-min read

"I'm a patriot," says Tony Kearne. "I just thought it was my opportunity to step up and help people in trauma."

"I am too old to fight," adds the 59-year-old. "So I want to do the next best thing and help women and children who are in danger, whilst their husbands fight."

Tony and his girlfriend jumped at the opportunity to help Ukrainian refugees, signing up to the government sponsorship scheme to host a family as soon as they could.

They were matched with Kateryna Omnurfryk and her mother Natalya Omnurfryk, along with three young children.

But the beds that Tony has prepared weeks ago still lie empty as he waits for the Home Office to grant the Omnurfryk family their visas.

Tony had himself submitted the visa applications for the Omnurfryks, but 40 days later only four out of the five visas were granted, meaning the family have been left stranded in Poland.

"Four visas have been approved but the fifth hasn't, which of course traps them because they can only travel as a full family," he says.

In the meantime, the Omnurfryks have run out of cash while waiting for the Home Office to issue the final visa.

Tony has now spent more than £2,500 to provide them with accommodation and vital necessities such as food and nappies.

Tony says Kateryna has "never, ever asked for money", but without financial support, their only option is to "go back to Ukraine".

He says he is happy to fork out the money if it means getting his sponsored family to the UK safely - but he cannot forgive the government for the delays.

"The slowness, and the bureaucracy, and the speed bumps, and the lack of communication. I stepped up, but now I feel stitched up by the government," says Tony.

These are sentiments shared by Derek Atkins who is sponsoring Zoryana Fesyk and her three children aged 11, 13, and 17, and who applied for sponsorship on 29 March.

"When we started this journey I was quite happy to support this family," says Derek. "But I'll be honest, I did not think it was going to cost £2,500."

Derek says through help from family and friends, he got his house ready for his new guests more than a month ago.

"But instead of this family being in it, we've had to spend £2,500 on hotels and hostels in Warsaw."

He says he spent weeks emailing and calling "every helpline we could think of", but says the whole system has been an "absolute disgrace".

"I feel so strongly that this government has been an utter disgrace with this whole thing. And I speak for hundreds of people," says Derek.

Enver Solomon, CEO of The Refugee Council, says the current visa scheme is "not fit for purpose".

"I think its appalling that the British public have had to put their hands in their own pocket to pay for people because they haven't been able to get to the UK quickly."

He says he thinks the government has heavily relied on the goodwill of the British public, willing to open "their hearts and homes" for Ukrainians fleeing war.

But says the government has failed to provide simple, safe, quick routes for Ukrainians to get to the UK.

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A Home Office spokesperson told Sky News: "The British public have stepped up with great generosity to welcome thousands of Ukrainians into their homes, and sponsoring households will receive a £350 per month thank you payment for hosting. There is no expectation that people should pay for hotel rooms to accommodate Ukrainians.

"So far more than 95,000 visas have been granted by the Home Office, with over 37,000 Ukrainians arriving safely in the UK, and thanks to changes made to streamline the service we are now processing thousands of visas a day."

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