A 15-year-old Ukrainian refugee is being denied a visa to come to Scotland – but government officials are allowing her pet guinea pigs in.
Nataliia Zavhorodnia could be forced back to the warzone alone next month if the Home Office does not approve her entry into the UK, where she’s been matched with a couple in Hamilton.
She fled the horrors of the Russian invasion of her homeland along with her aunt Millena Kornieieva – whose visa has been approved.
And in a bizarre twist of government red tape, officials from the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have given her guinea pigs Melon and Julienne the right to come to Scotland, while Nataliia’s case hangs in limbo.
The teenager and Millena, 34, have been linked up with Kate and Martin Fuller, who want to give the pair the spare room at their home.
Kate, 40, said: “Why can’t she just come here? She’s a little girl.
“I just don’t get what the problem is, I really don’t.”
“It’s quite unbelievable that her guinea pigs can get into the country but she can’t. The system is all over the place. ”
Nataliia’s mum Hanna made the agonising decision that her daughter should leave their home in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv because girls are under threat from invading Russian soldiers.
Hanna, 42, remains in the capital with Nataliia’s nine-year-old brother Sasha and dad Oleksii, 42, who is helping with the
Nataliia and Millena were able to link up with Kate and Martin via a Ukrainian refugee Facebook group, after the couple’s Homes for Ukraine application was approved by the UK Government.
Visa applications were submitted on April 1, with Millena’s approved on April 16 – but Nataliia’s was hit by delay after delay.
While they were waiting, an email was sent to DEFRA to apply for the guinea pigs to come under a special Ukrainian pets scheme, which was approved last Wednesday.
Nataliia has now written an emotional letter to the Home Office in which she describes the horrors of war and her plea to come to Scotland.
“Hi there! My name is Nataliia, I’m 15 and I’m from Kyiv.
I saw destroyed houses hit by a rocket, I saw dead people, I saw tanks and machine guns.
I felt what’s like when your house shaking from the bombing, when you’re sitting in a shelter and just hoping it wouldn’t get hit, when you sleep fully dressed and with the lights on, to get your stuff quickly and go to a safer place. It was really traumatizing to
read the news of dead children and understand that you are no different from them and you are just lucky.
Or to hold your mother’s hand while trying to sleep, because you’re just scared to fall asleep. But almost two months ago, I applied for Homes for Ukraine scheme and I hoped that after a little while I would be able to get to a safe place.
A month ago, I left Ukraine. Our travel was long and exhausting and since then I have been in Budapest.
Now I check my mail every morning, and every time it’s empty. I never waited anything so much. Every day, my faith that I will be able to come decreases.
Time is running out and I can’t wait
for the visa any longer. I will have to return to Ukraine, return to danger, return and live again with the war
outside my window.
And I just started to get used to safety, I stopped being afraid of loud sounds and noise of planes. I stopped listening to the sirens outside the
window and thinking about closest shelter I’ll be able to run to.
I really hope to get a chance for a peaceful life in a country I admired so much, as a child and till this day. From the age of eight, I read everything I could find about Scotland and its traditions. I dream to go to this country as far as I remember. I’m feeling really connected and related to Scotland.
Because of this, I believe that I will feel most comfortable in your country, while I can’t leave in mine.
I can’t go home now, I can’t go back to war now. Please give me my visa. This is very important to me.
Thank you. ”
In an email which Kate last week forwarded to UK Government officials, Nataliia said: “I saw destroyed houses hit by a rocket, I saw dead people, I saw tanks and machine guns.
“I felt what’s like when your house shaking from the bombing, when you’re sitting in a shelter and just hoping it wouldn’t get hit, when you sleep fully dressed and with the lights on, to get your stuff quickly and go to a safer place.
“It was really traumatizing to read the news of dead children and understand that you are no different from them and you are just lucky.
“Or to hold your mother’s hand while trying to sleep, because you’re just scared to fall asleep.
“Time is running out and I can’t wait for the visa any longer. I will have to return to Ukraine, return to danger, return and live again with the war outside my window.
“From the age of eight, I read everything I could find about Scotland and its traditions. I dream to go to this country as far as I remember.
“I can’t go home now, I can’t go back to war now.”
The pair left Kyiv and made their way to Moldova initially before getting into neighboring Hungary, where they have been staying in temporary accommodation in Budapest.
But they have to leave there on June 4 – meaning there’s less than two weeks left to get a decision on Nataliia’s visa.
If it’s not sorted by then, Millena – who left behind her fiance Alexandar Zarholulko, who is serving in the Ukrainian army – will have to decide what to do.
She can either come to Scotland on her own or go with Nataliia back to Ukraine or into a refugee camp in Moldova.
Those were the options given to the couple by the Home Office when they asked what would happen to Nataliia.
Kate, who works for AXA Health, told the Sunday Mail: “You can’t send her back to a warzone on her own. And you’re not going to put a wee girl in a refugee camp in Moldova on her own.
“We thought the delay might be because she is traveling without her parents but we have submitted legal documents, her parents’ passports, proof from the school that she is continuing education.
“We’ve sent everything we could possibly send but still nothing. If Millena comes on her own, Nataliia will then become an unaccompioned minor.
“The chances of getting Nataliia here then are much slimmer.”
Kate and Martin, a 37-year-old delivery driver, went through a string of checks by the UK Government to have their application to house a Ukrainian refugee approved.
They said they wanted to do all they could to open up their home they share with their cocker spaniel Jura after seeing the horrors of the Russian war on Ukraine.
Kate said: “I speak to them every day, we are all friends now, they feel like family already. People think the UK Government are trying their best. No they’re not, they’re not even trying at all. ”
MP Margaret Ferrier has been campaigning to have Nataliia’s visa issue sorted.
She said: “The thought of a young girl being separated from her guardian and sent back to a warzone or to a refugee camp is unacceptable.
“My team have spent hours on the phone to the Home Office attempting to get an answer as to why Nataliia’s visa hasn’t
“We have written repeatedly to every contact the Home Office has provided since Mrs Fuller first contacted us, but despite assurances, the Home Office does not seem to be taking action.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Unaccompanied minors are only eligible under the Homes for Ukraine scheme if they are reuniting with a parent or legal guardian in the UK – this is outlined in the immigration rules.
“We have recently announced a £ 45million package of support to protect the most vulnerable people in Ukraine and the region and support to organizations on the ground helping children fleeing the conflict.”
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