Cambridge group opens website to link Ukrainians and UK homeowners
A new website which matches Cambridge residents with Ukrainian refugees was launched today, as the effort to bring those fleeing the war in their homeland stalls over delayed visas and an apparent lack of contact between the UK government and 170,000 registered home owners.
The website, Cambridge4Ukraine, has been developed by Cambridge University Ukrainian Society (CUUS) to enable those fleeing the war to get in contact with prospective sponsors in Cambridge or indeed elsewhere in the UK. A form is included on the site to allow both refugees and UK residents to register and share contact details. Connections forged in this way will allow refugees to put the name of their UK sponsor into their visa application, says CUUS member Andrii Smytsniuk, who is managing the project.
Speaking from Romania, where he is waiting with his Ukrainian parents for their UK visa to arrive, Andrii said: “I’m managing the project with volunteers – some from the university, some local residents. The idea is to introduce Ukrainian refugees with those willing to help them in Cambridge and surrounding areas.
“Cambridge people have been very very generous offering their homes but a lot don’t know anyone from Ukraine personally, so we’re introducing them to people who want to come to the UK.
“People in Cambridge or anywhere in the UK essentially fill in a form, and also to talk to friends and relatives and loved ones to fill in the form, and we have people who will introduce them [residents and refugees] to each other.”
The team of seven all speak both Ukrainian and English, and can help with phone calls and filling in the lengthy, intimidating forms provided by the UK government to Ukrainian refugees.
Andrii adds: “The website went live today but we previously distributed the forms on Facebook and Twitter. We have the capability to match ten Ukrainian forms with ten UK forms a day. So far we’ve had 88 responses from the UK and about half that number from Ukrainian refugees, but we are being contacted every day by Ukrainians.”
Andrii is currently in Suceava, having taken a direct flight from Luton to the city in the north-east of Romania (40km from the Ukrainian border) last Thursday (March 17). His parents, who lived in Ivano-Frankivst, a town 80km from Lviv in the west of Ukraine, left Ukraine on March 16.
“They had to go by bus to another town, Chernivtsi, close to the Ukrainian/Romanian border,” says Andrii. “They didn’t know anyone in Chernivtsi. I found a friend of a friend of a friend who kindly agreed to drive from Romania to pick them up and bring them to Romania. His name is Kolia, everyone calls him Uncle Kolia, he’s been doing this on his own. He has Ukrainian/Romanian heritage but holds a Romanian passport.”
“My mother and father feel fine, they’re okay, my father isn’t much used to travelling so he doesn’t understand what’s happening, but he’s a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest and he has found a church here in Romania. He doesn’t speak any other languages but my mother speaks English, she’s a lecturer in English, to it’s easier for her.
“It took me three weeks to convince them to get out of the Ukraine and come to the UK. They are looking forward to coming to see some of my friends and the colleagues they’ve spoken to, but ultimately they really want to come back to Ukraine, they didn’t want to come to Romania, they’re doing this out of necessity.”
The family has now been waiting one week for a family visa. The Home Office is operating two visa schemes for Ukrainian refugees: the Ukraine Family Scheme permits refugees with relatives in the UK to enter the country, and the Homes for Ukraine Scheme allows households to offer to host refugees not previously known to them.
“It take a lot of time to fill in the forms and find the documents they need,” Andrii notes. “I don’t know anyone who has received a place via the UK government Homes for Ukrainian scheme. I and most of my friends can’t use the Ukrainian family scheme as we have been living in the UK for less than five years and do not yet have indefinite leave to remain.”
A week has gone by. What has the UK government said to you?
“I received an email a week after sending the application, which says it’s ‘being prepared for consideration by an entry clearance officer’.”
‘Being prepared for consideration’ – so it still isn’t actually being considered?
“We are very frustrated with it,” Andrii replies. “The whole process is not very clear about which documents are needed to support the application, and it is very hard for people to get those documents if they went to Romania, Poland or Moldova.”
Only certified translators are able to prepare an application.
“It is very hard to get a professional translator and produce certified copies,” Andrii says. “I had to translate an application [for a friend in Poland] and it’s unclear. It says the application has to be certified by a certified translator so it’s uncertain if it can be used. We’re waiting to hear.”
Yesterday (March 24), one month on from the start of the Russian invasion, Ukrainians and pro-Ukrainian supporters gathered on King’s Parade for a candlelit vigil. One of the speakers asked how many of those attending had signed up to the Homes for Ukrainians scheme, and more than a dozen had. When the speaker asked how many of those had heard back from the government scheme, no hand was raised.
Almost 3.6 million people have left Ukraine since February 24 for western countries: 12 have left their homes to find new ones in Ukraine – and more than 16,000 fighters have entered Ukraine from 52 other countries to take on the Russian army. Poland has taken in 2,144,244 refugees. Germany has taken in 170,000. Ireland has taken in 6,600. The UK, with a population 16 times that of neighbouring Ireland, has granted visas for 5,500 refugees, with a further 20,000 waiting to be processed.
The Home Office was contacted for comment. A spokesperson said that no comment was possible on the case for Andrii’s parents until the details of their case was provided, including names, dates of birth, passport numbers and a case reference number for their application.
“People applying for the scheme via the application process will be notified if they are successful,” the spokesperson added.
The Home Office has so far refused to provide figures on how many refugees had been granted visas.
- CUUS has asked Cambridge residents to sign an open letter calling for an EU-style settlement scheme for Ukrainians wishing to enter the UK.
- A pro-Ukraine march is set to take place tomorrow (March 26).