Plot twist sees Ukrainian child reunited with refugee parents in UK as calls for government policy change grow

Ukrainian refugee parents who were prevented from taking their two-year-old daughter to the UK following a sudden tightening of travel sponsorship rules will get their child back after a government reversal.

Oleksandra and Yaroslav, both 31, decided to leave their daughter Anna with her grandparents in Kyiv so that they could find their own apartment and start a new business upon their arrival under the Homes for Ukraine program in April 2022.

However, after overcoming these obstacles, in April their application for Anna to join them was rejected by the Home Office that same month on the grounds that – under changes to the rules introduced without warning in February – they were no longer eligible for sponsorship because they were not British or Irish citizens and did not have indefinite leave to remain.

However, after Anna’s case was made public by Independent and raised by a charity. After marrying into high-ranking figures in the Home Office, her parents received sponsorship checks, and the child’s visa was finally approved on June 18.

“I feel relieved that everything has finally been sorted out and we can live normally – I am very happy about that,” said Anna’s mother, Oleksandra Independentafter months of worries.

But despite Anna’s U-turn, the rules preventing other Ukrainians from sponsoring close family members remain in place – prompting Oleksandra, Labour MP Lord Alf Dubs and many frontline charities to call on Sir Keir Starmer’s new government to urgently restore their right to do so.

Kate Smart, chief executive of Settled, said: “We are delighted that Anna has been granted a visa and that the family can now be reunited safely. This follows Settled’s intervention with a senior Home Office contact and our sharing the story with national media.

“Unfortunately, the changes to the Homes For Ukraine rules introduced in February are still in place – so it is likely that other families will still be unable to sponsor their children.

Before the changes introduced in February, Ukrainians with more than six months of visa validity remaining could act as sponsors (AFP via Getty Images)Before the changes introduced in February, Ukrainians with more than six months of visa validity remaining could act as sponsors (AFP via Getty Images)

Before the changes introduced in February, Ukrainians with more than six months of visa validity remaining could act as sponsors (AFP via Getty Images)

“Setled again calls for an urgent change to the law to restore Ukrainians’ right to sponsor close family members. The spirit of these humanitarian visas requires that children be allowed to join their parents. We very much hope that the new interior minister will consider this as soon as possible.”

Lord Dubs, who came to Britain as a six-year-old fleeing the Nazis, said: Independent was “delighted” that Anna had been allowed to come to the UK, having previously warned that the “deeply shocking” situation “betrays our commitment to the Ukrainian people”.

He added: “I very much hope that the government will soon pass new regulations that will provide better conditions for refugees from Ukraine and other countries – especially those who want to reunite their families – to come to this country.

“It’s urgent because some of these cases are very difficult. We’re not talking about a large number, but they are really very difficult cases. And I very much hope that the new ministers will look at this very quickly.”

When the decision was made to close the Ukraine Family Program and tighten criteria for sponsoring the Homes for Ukraine program — just days before the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion — officials downplayed widespread warnings that the move would separate families, calling it “cynical scare tactics.”

Lord Alf Dubs is a veteran refugee campaigner (PA)Lord Alf Dubs is a veteran refugee campaigner (PA)

Lord Alf Dubs is a veteran refugee campaigner (PA)

However, in addition to Anna’s case, the Refugee Council and the charity Safe Passage have highlighted numerous cases of Ukrainian children who have been unable to join their families in the UK because Ukrainians without permanent residence permits were unable to act as sponsors.

Dr Wanda Wyporska, CEO of Safe Passage International, said: Independent:“Since the Sunak government changed the rules in February, we have been contacted by many Ukrainian parents in the UK who desperately want to be reunited with their children but now have no way of doing so.

“It is a disgrace that these families, torn apart by war and conflict, are now being torn apart by these Home Office rules. The new government must urgently change the rules so that displaced Ukrainians can be reunited with their close family members in safety in the UK.

“The UK has rightly offered safe haven to many Ukrainians fleeing the horrors of war. With the conflict showing no signs of abating, it would be wrong to continue to prevent children from safely joining their mothers and fathers in the UK.”

Also calling on the new government to “take urgent steps to help families who have been separated to be safely reunited”, Jon Featonby, chief policy analyst at the Refugee Council, added: “This includes reopening the Ukrainian families programme, as well as lifting restrictions that prevent refugees from other parts of the world from being with their loved ones.”

Calling on the new government to change the rules “as soon as possible”, Oleksandra added: “It’s important because I think many families are in a similar situation and it should be easier for them, they shouldn’t have to worry about this process.

“They should change the rules as soon as possible and it will be easier for many families. I have many friends in Europe and they don’t have this problem.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Our plans for Ukraine are kept under constant review as we seek to provide stability for those we have welcomed to the UK and those who continue to need our shelter.”

It is known that the new Minister of Internal Affairs, Yvette Cooper, who herself acted as a sponsor of the Home for Ukraine program, has not yet made a decision on the future of the current policy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.