Inside the cavernous confines of the airport in Iași, Romania, volunteers were offering food, drink and translation services to the continuous influx of Ukrainians fleeing war.
Those arriving knew that bagging a place on a flight required patience, tenacity and no little luck. Routes to Italy, Austria, Poland and Ireland were all fully booked. Yet one destination stood out.
The only planes leaving Iași last week not crammed with Ukrainians were those to London Luton, a snapshot of what critics call the UK’s heartless and chaotic approach to the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war.
About 550 miles north-east, in the Polish capital Warsaw, that approach was weighing heavily on the Nelipa family, as they spent Saturday waiting for news that their visa application had at least been read by the Home Office. The 72-hour window for a response had elapsed and the latest update indicated no UK government official had even looked at it.
Warsaw is just the latest staging post for Viktoriia Nelipa, 38, her six-year-old daughter Mishel and autistic son Hryhorii, four, on a journey that began on 25 February with them fleeing fighting near their home in the Luhansk area of eastern Ukraine. They abandoned their car at Dnipro, caught a crowded 15-hour “evacuation train” to Lviv, then a bus to the border and onwards into Poland.
They hoped to be in Newcastle by now, where Viktoriia’s mother, a British citizen, has lived for 15 years. Instead they are stuck in Warsaw. And on Sundaythey are set to become homeless. With the Polish capital inundated, accommodation has become almost impossible to find.
Viktoriia Nelipa with son Hryhorii, four, daughter Mishel, six, and mother Lyudmila.
Nelipa has no doubt that the Home Office’s “incomprehensible” decision to become the only European destination to demand a visa for Ukrainian refugees has thwarted their escape to the UK.
Meanwhile in Brixham, Devon, Nelipa’s sister, Oksana Andriianova, 40, will spend Sunday coordinating help for hundreds of eligible Ukrainians also struggling to reach the UK.
Despite 850 enquiries to her organisation, it has only helped a single case, via Paris, navigate the UK’s fiendish visa regime. “It’s been very difficult,” said Andriianova.
Even judged against the Home Office’s recent standards, the mix of incompetence, hard-heartedness and sheer dishonesty in response to the invasion of Ukraine has, …….