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Host speaks of difficulty in bringing teenage Ukrainian musician to UK

Anastasiia Sandalova and Deanne Campbell (Handout/PA)
Anastasiia Sandalova and Deanne Campbell (Handout/PA)

A UK music teacher who fought to host an unaccompanied young Ukrainian musician through the Homes for Ukraine scheme said she was made to feel like she was “trying to legitimise child trafficking” during her struggle.

The Government announced on Wednesday that Ukrainian children will be able to come to the UK without a parent or guardian under the Homes for Ukraine visa scheme.

So far, children under 18 have been unable to get to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme unless they are with, or joining, a parent or guardian.

But, for some weeks after the scheme opened in March, there was no mention of under-18s needing to do this in Government guidance, leading to confusion among potential hosts such as Deanne Campbell.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Deanne Campbell and husband Darren Campbell (Deanne Campbell)

Mrs Campbell, 52, from Stocklinch in Somerset, welcomed 16-year-old Anastasiia Sandalova to the UK on May 22 after weeks of difficulty having initially submitted an application on March 29.

“I’ve been treated like I’m trying to legitimise child trafficking or something,” Mrs Campbell, a professional flautist and teacher for more than 30 years, told the PA news agency.

“I’ve had so many confrontational emails back from people as if I’m doing something dodgy by just trying to help this girl, and I’ve been trolled on some of the Facebook groups.

“I’m just trying to help someone here.”

The Government’s announcement means that unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 will be able to apply for a visa to come to the UK under the sponsorship scheme if they have parental consent.

The new policy will initially apply to more than a thousand unaccompanied minors who have already applied under the scheme.

Mrs Campbell described Anastasiia as “an extremely talented musician” who plays the piano and guitar and also sings.

The teenager fled Kyiv with her mother and two-year-old sister shortly after the Russian invasion of the country, going on to stay on people’s sofas in Montenegro.

After submitting an application and setting up a bedroom along with a music room for Anastasiia earlier in the year, Mrs Campbell was told by her local council that under-18s travelling alone are ineligible.

Somerset County Council told PA in April that they had always assumed unaccompanied minors would not be eligible, but did not have “clear guidance” until a letter from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities arrived on April 13.

Meanwhile a Government spokesperson said at the time: “Due to safeguarding requirements, unaccompanied minors are only eligible under the Homes for Ukraine scheme if they are reuniting with a parent or guardian in the UK.”

On May 22 Anastasiia arrived in the UK on the condition that her mother fly over to drop her off, according to Mrs Campbell.

Others will follow under the new guidelines – those who have already applied and are waiting will be written to this week by the Home Office, but additional security checks may mean it is a few weeks before visas are issued.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Anastasiia Sandalova has ‘really integrated well’ according to her host (Ivan Shtanko)

Having been in the country for a month now, Anastasiia has settled in at school and has a music camp to look forward to in the summer – Mrs Campbell said she hoped her story would inspire others to persevere.

“I said ‘is living here all that you hoped it would be?’” said Mrs Campbell. “And she said ‘yes, definitely, and a lot more’.

“She’s really integrated well, she was saying last night ‘I’m so lucky I’ve got a second family now’.

“As far as I’m concerned she is family to us now and we will do whatever we’ve got to do.

“I think there are hosts out there that are literally at the end of their tether, and (I want) to show that not only can you get them over, but they’re really happy.”