Brits scramble to leave Ukraine and get families out amid fears of invasion

British citizens are seeking support to bring their loved ones home as warnings increase over Ukraine

Thomas Kingsley,Zoe Tidman
Friday 18 February 2022 16:26 GMT
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Olha Kucherov and her son David left Kiev for Prague amid uncertainty whether she can travel to the UK
Olha Kucherov and her son David left Kiev for Prague amid uncertainty whether she can travel to the UK (Supplied)

Brits are scrambling to leave Ukraine and get their relatives and loved ones out of the country following UK government advice and warnings of an imminent invasion by Russia.

British nationals in the country were told by the Foreign Office last week to leave while commercial flights were available and and not to count on any help with evacuation “in the event of a Russian military incursion.”

However, the government has since faced calls to help the family members of British citizens who are in Ukraine to leave the country and enter the UK - including by fast-tracking visas and relaxing immigration rules.

Home Office minister Damian Hinds on Friday said the government is helping British nationals leaving Ukraine as people flee the threat of war by “prioritising” visas.

“I am very much focussed that British nationals who are in Ukraine and their immediate families, husbands, wives, their children, they are able to leave if that is what they wish to do,” Mr Hinds told British radio station LBC.

However, Vlad Kucherov, a Brit who lives in Peterborough, said he was worried about his Ukrainian wife Olha and their one-year-old David - who were in Ukraine due to family issues but fled to Prague last week due to reports of an imminent Russian incursion.

The IT engineer from Bournemouth is desperate to bring his wife and child to the UK but are waiting to hear back from the Home Office days after requesting an emergency visa.

Vlad Kucherov says the family are waiting to hear back from the Home Office about an emergency visa application
Vlad Kucherov says the family are waiting to hear back from the Home Office about an emergency visa application (supplied)

Meanwhile, due to his British passport and post-Brexit immigration rules, toddler David can only stay in Czech Republic for three months before facing a fine or deportation.

“The Home Office hasn’t called me back in three days, I’ve explained the situation is quite critical for us and I’d like to get them here (to the UK),” said 26-year-old Vlad. “Olha has been panicking, we all are.”

For Brits still in Ukraine, concerns are rising as commercial flights become scarcer and warnings grow more dire by the day.

British medical student Haider Ali, who had been studying in central Ukraine but arrived back at Gatwick Airport on Saturday, said the government’s warning to leave the country had “caused quite a panic”.

“The Ukrainians are generally very laissez-faire as in terms of people, but the last couple of days they’ve started to get worried,” said Mr Ali. “And when that happens, alarm bells should be ringing”.

An outside view of the Igor Sikorsky International Airport in Kiev, Ukraine, 16 February 2022
An outside view of the Igor Sikorsky International Airport in Kiev, Ukraine, 16 February 2022 (EPA)

He said his university, the Dnipro Medical Institute, had advised students to “get out as soon as you can”.

The threat of a Russian invasion has put Nato forces on standby while US President Joe Biden and British PM Boris Johnson have accused Russia of creating a “false flag” designed to undermine Ukraine and create a pretext to war, after shelling in east Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in recent days.

Petro Rewko, chairman of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain said: “Clearly many people are worried about the situation in Ukraine and some British citizens will be taking the UK’s government advice to leave.

“We understand that the Foreign Office has and is continuing to provided advice and assistance to British nationals and we’re sure that officials in Ukraine will be doing their best to help.”

The Home Office said it had has waived immigration fees for immediate family members of British citizens in Ukraine, and will consider “an alternative grant of leave” for relatives who do not meet the usual entry criteria.

“Those eligible should apply now, applications can be made in Ukraine where we are continuing to process them and we will make decisions in line with the immigration rules,” a spokesman said.

However, not all Brits are planning to leave Ukraine.

Briton David Mann, 72 who lives in Kiev, said he won’t leave the country and that “whatever happens, happens”.

“I have lived in Ukraine for 13 years. I consider Ukraine to be my home and as such I intend to stay here, whatever happens,” he told The Independent.

“I have a dog and a cat and can’t just up sticks and leave them in any case. The situation is concerning but I just hope that common sense prevails.”

This story was amended on 18 February 2022 to remove a reference to Olha Kucherov being unable to obtain a spousal visa to the UK because she had not passed an English language test. The Home Office says it has waived this requirement for dependents of British Nationals. The Home Office said its visa team had been touch with Olha to communicate this fact to her.

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