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Cambridge woman begins hunger strike over Ukrainian friend’s visa delays



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A Cambridge charity worker who recently painted her home in the colours of the Ukrainian flag has begun a hunger strike to highlight the delays refugees are facing when applying for a UK visa.

Rend Platings wants to sponsor her best friend, Kristina Corniuk, 34, to come to the UK from Kyiv but she has been horrified by the time it is taking to to apply for a visa under the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme.

According to Rend, the application was made within minutes of the scheme opening. But she said she has heard nothing except an acknowledgement. Kristina remains in limbo and potential danger, while Rend feels that she has failed her best friend.

Rend Platings holding a photo of her friend Kristina, who is trying to escape Ukraine and come to live with her in the UK. Pic Andrew Wilkinson (55826852)
Rend Platings holding a photo of her friend Kristina, who is trying to escape Ukraine and come to live with her in the UK. Pic Andrew Wilkinson (55826852)

"As an Iraqi, I understand the impact of war," says Rend. "I am really afraid for Kristina, and for all the people who have been forced to flee their homes under such terrible circumstances. The delay in issuing visas is adding to an already appalling humanitarian crisis and must not be allowed to continue."

Many others are experiencing the same frustration and fear. Fiona Godlee, 60 also lives in Cambridge and signed up for the Homes for Ukraine scheme as soon as it opened. She has offered to host and sponsor Olga Reznikova, Abdul and their two little girls aged 6 and 18 months, who fled Kyiv at the start of the war. The visa application was completed more than 10 days ago and they have heard nothing except for an acknowledgement.

"The rooms are ready for them," says Fiona. "We have been given beds and bedding by neighbours. Everyone wants to help. But it feels like we are colluding in a deception. We may even be doing harm because these good people, through no fault of their own, are delaying other plans to find a place of safety somewhere else. They are being given false hope. While other countries in Europe are not requiring a visa, we feel like we are being lied to by the Home Office and in turn are lying to Olga and her family."

Rend Platings and her friend Kristina in Kyiv at New Year. (55826858)
Rend Platings and her friend Kristina in Kyiv at New Year. (55826858)

Rend, who is part of the action group Mums For Ukraine, says she will continue "until the government puts its actions where its rhetoric is and makes good on its promise to support the generosity that has so far been extended by the British public."

Rend met Kristina in Ukraine when she was visiting to have fertility treatment. Since then she has visited the country many times abd cekebrated last New year’s Eve together with Kristina and her parents.

Rend says: “It took a long time for me to convince Kristina to leave Kyiv when the war began, and even consider leaving her beloved country. There were tears and a lot of persuasion. Kristina is extremely close to her parents and grandfather; I was always telling her that she spent way too much time with them and that that might be the reason why she didn’t have a boyfriend.

“Eventually after a lot of tears I asked her to tell her family to all ‘just pack as if you are going. Just prepare to go.’ I said that this would likely take a few days and would be an easier sell to her family, after all, if their home were destroyed by shelling, they would need to leave it and wouldn’t they want to be ready? ‘Great idea, I think I can get them to do that.’

“Then the next day, more tears. ‘I can’t leave them, Rend’. Her grandfather is 90 – our family were the only foreigners he had ever met. He’d never left Ukraine. ‘We can’t go. We don’t even know if he’ll survive the trip to the border.’ She told me that his health wasn’t good, he could not stand for long periods of time, trains were out of the question, so was sleeping on the floor.

Rend and Michael Platings with the Corniuks in Kyiv, summer 2021. (55826860)
Rend and Michael Platings with the Corniuks in Kyiv, summer 2021. (55826860)

“After the packing ‘just in case’ exercise we talked again and she said ‘it’s so hard, Rend. I know that I need to go. I’m going to get in the car and go tomorrow, I know that I might never see my parents and my grandfather again, but I know I need to go.’ She had just decided that she could do more from outside than inside Ukraine, and also that leaving Kyiv was a patriotic act. ‘If the city goes under siege, it will be helpful to your army to not have to worry about keeping you alive’, I suggested. ‘Don’t feel that you are not being patriotic by going somewhere safe.’

“We were all nervous about her driving out of Kyiv, but relaxed a bit after she got through the first day and stayed with a relative who she’d never met before, in the most difficult circumstances. My husband and I were sick with worry.

“‘Rend, I made it,’ she told me a couple of days later. She’d reached a relatively safe place in the country and over the time she’d been travelling I’d put in the application for her visa because, as we had agreed, she’d be heading over to the UK to stay at our house.

Rend Platings and family outside her house, standing with campaigner Fiona. Pic by Andrew Wilkinson (55826854)
Rend Platings and family outside her house, standing with campaigner Fiona. Pic by Andrew Wilkinson (55826854)

“Kristina and I had completed the sponsorship application within minutes of the website going live, having already the previous week registered my interest. I had bought her a sofa bed and set up her room with a desk and chair so she would be able to continue to work as a Spanish teacher if she wanted. Now we were just waiting. For the first few days she'd ask if I had heard anything. But apart from an acknowledgement of the application we have heard nothing.

“‘It’s like your government doesn’t really want us,’ she says. ‘It makes it so long that in the end people will choose other countries to go to.’ Kristina now says she can't stay where she is and will go back to Kyiv to be with her family.”

Despite Russian claims, Kyiv is not safe, says Rend. "There is a real prospect that Kristina might be injured or killed.

"I would not be able to forgive myself if this happened because of needless red tape. When I told people about the hunger strike they asked if I'd be okay but we really need to be asking ourselves that question of all of the people like Kristina who are waiting in the cruelest of circumstances. I would ask of the government to do whatever it takes. Please fix it now"



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