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Ukraine visa scheme is ‘shambolic’ says engineer after his family flee to UK

Ukrainian engineer Anton Ievsiushkin with his sister Anastasiia Ievsiushkin in Hillsborough Park, Sheffield (Danny Lawson/PA)
Ukrainian engineer Anton Ievsiushkin with his sister Anastasiia Ievsiushkin in Hillsborough Park, Sheffield (Danny Lawson/PA)

A Ukrainian engineer who has helped dozens of refugees get to the UK after his own close family made it out of under-fire Mariupol and Kharkiv says the system remains “shambolic” and is getting worse.

Anton Ievsiushkin, 38, contrasted the “amazing” help his sister, niece, mother and grandmother have had from the British public with the failing bureaucracy he says had been put in their way by a Government which he believes wants to discourage refugees from applying.

Mr Ievsiushkin, from Sheffield, began helping families settle in the UK after his twin sister Anastasiia and her now five-month-old daughter fled from Mariupol as Russians bombarded the devastated city in March.

He and his sister told the PA news agency how she grabbed a few possessions and moved closer to the centre of the Azov Sea port, staying in a tiny cellar for a fortnight as the whole population was trapped.

Anastasiia and her baby eventually made a run for it on March 16 as fears rose that they would run out of food.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Ukrainian engineer Anton Ievsiushkin, who has helped dozens of refugees get to the UK, says the system remains ‘shambolic’ and is getting worse (Danny Lawson/PA)

Mr Ievsiushkin said three families crammed into two cars and “just went”, joining a convoy out of Mariupol just a day after a similar one had been hit by Russian shells.

They left just as the Russians committed one of the worst atrocities of the Russian attack on the city, when a theatre was destroyed leaving hundreds dead.

“At the very moment they were getting into their cars they heard this load bang when the Russians bombed the drama theatre,” he said.

Mr Ievsiushkin said he lost connection with his sister for 11 days before she finally texted him from Berdyansk.

“It was the most horrible 11 days of my life,” he said. “I couldn’t get in touch with them. I didn’t know whether they were alive or not. Only when they got to Berdyansk, 50 or 60 miles to the west, they sent me a text saying they got out.”

But Mr Ievsiushkin described how his sister moved through Ukraine and he then spent weeks fighting bureaucracy, travelling to Poland to help Anastasiia and her daughter provide the biometric data needed to enter Britain under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Mr Ievsiushkin said it took four weeks from submitting the biometric information to Anastasiia and her daughter arriving in the UK and travelling to Sheffield on April 28.

“I thought it was just shambolic,” Mr Ievsiushkin said.

“They should have just waived the visas, let people come and then deal with them – just get them to safety and then sort out the paperwork.”

He described how he also helped his 74-year-old mother and 96-year-old grandmother leave another city at the centre of the Russian invasion, Kharkiv – spending 40 days trying to persuade them to leave the city, despite shells exploding in their neighbourhood.

Mr Ievsiushkin said both women are now safely in Britain and he is currently helping scores of other Ukrainians – from translating documents to helping with the entire visa process.

He said the situation was getting more difficult in the UK, partly because of problems refugees are having accessing state services, citing his own mother and grandmother’s problems even getting hold of someone on the phone to sort out Pension Credit.

“Just pick any step of the process and its just so poorly organised,” he said.

“Once you get into this process and understand what kind of uncertainty it causes for refugees who are willing to come here, it’s just shambolic.”

The Government has repeatedly stressed that the schemes for helping Ukrainians reach the UK are uncapped but Mr Ievsiushkin said he believed they were deliberately designed to discourage refugees.

“My understanding is that the whole process was designed from the start to minimise the number of refugees that will be coming. I can see no other logical explanation,” he said.

“And even now, three months on, we’re still having cases where people wait for over two months for their visas and travel documents to be ready.”

Mr Ievsiushkin said: “Local people have been amazing and charities have also been amazing because they work on the ground, they work with people, they see this day to day suffering,” he said.

“I’m humbled by the support just regular people are ready to provide – open up their houses, give up their time and basically foster a family and take care of them.”

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Ukrainian engineer Anton Ievsiushkin with his sister Anastasiia Ievsiushkin and her five-month-old baby (not named at mother’s request) (Danny Lawson/PA)

He said: “The discrepancy between the response of regular people and response the Government – it just strikes me, to be honest.”

Mr Ievsiushkin came to Sheffield in 2014 to work as a project engineer in the steel industry for a multi-national firm.

A Government spokesman said: “More than 77,200 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK on our uncapped visa schemes for Ukraine, showing the steps we have taken to speed up the process are working.

“All applications from families are normally processed together, but cases differ in complexity and it is vital that robust safeguarding processes are in place to protect children from trafficking and other risks.

“We continue to make improvements so we can speed up the process even further.”

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “Responding to a serious humanitarian crisis by offering complex visa routes, putting paperwork and bureaucracy before people was always going to have tragic consequences.

“As we have since the beginning of the conflict, we urge the Government to waive visa requirements and introduce a humanitarian visa process to ensure we can immediately welcome families from Ukraine who seek safety in the UK.

“It is vital that Ukrainian families arriving here receive a warm welcome, safe housing and benefits, emotional support and connection and that both of the Government schemes set up to support them are given sufficient attention and support to ensure they are fit for purpose.”