U-turn sees Ukrainian toddler reunited with refugee parents in UK as calls grow for government policy change

Oleksandra and her daughter Anna pictured in Kyiv prior to Russia’s invasion (supplied)
Oleksandra and her daughter Anna pictured in Kyiv prior to Russia’s invasion (supplied)

Ukrainian refugee parents barred from bringing their two-year-old daughter to Britain after the UK’s sponsorship rules were suddenly tightened will now be reunited with their child after a government U-turn.

Oleksandra and Yaroslav, both aged 31, decided to leave their daughter Anna with her grandparents in Kyiv while getting set up with their own accommodation and establishing a new business after arriving in Britain under the Homes for Ukraine scheme in April 2022.

But after they overcame these hurdles, their application in April this year for Anna to join them was refused by the Home Office on the grounds that – as per rule changes brought in without warning in February – they were no longer eligible sponsors, being neither UK or Irish citizens nor having indefinite leave to remain.

However, after Anna’s case was highlighted by The Independent and raised by the charity Settled with senior Home Office figures, her parents were given sponsor checks and the toddler’s visa was finally approved on 18 June.

“I’m feeling relieved it’s finally sorted and we can live a normal life – I’m very happy about it,” Anna’s mother Oleksandra told The Independent, after months of worry.

But despite the U-turn in Anna’s case, the rules preventing other Ukrainians from sponsoring close family members still remain in place – prompting Oleksandra, Labour peer Lord Dubs and multiple frontline charities to urge Sir Keir Starmer’s new government to urgently reinstate their right to do so.

Kate Smart, chief executive at Settled, said: “We are so pleased that Anna has now been granted a visa and that this family can now be reunited in safety. This follows Settled’s intervention with a senior Home Office contact, and our sharing this story in national media.

“However, the unfortunate changes to Homes For Ukraine rules made in February still stand – so it’s likely that other families will still be prevented from sponsoring their children.

Prior to February’s changes, Ukrainians with more than six months left on their visa could act as sponsors (AFP via Getty)
Prior to February’s changes, Ukrainians with more than six months left on their visa could act as sponsors (AFP via Getty)

“Settled therefore again calls for an urgent change to the rules, to reinstate the right of Ukrainians to sponsor close family members. The spirit of these humanitarian visas demands that children are allowed to join their parents. We very much hope that the new home secretary will consider this as soon as possible.”

Lord Dubs, who arrived in the UK as a six-year-old fleeing the Nazis, told The Independent he was “delighted” that Anna had now been granted permission to come to the UK, having previously warned that the “deeply shocking” situation “betrays our commitment to Ukrainians”.

He continued: “I hope very much that there will soon be new legislation from this government which will provide a better framework for refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere – particularly under family reunion purposes – to come to this country.

“It is urgent, because some of these are very hard cases. We’re not talking about a large number, but they are very hard cases indeed. And I very much hope that the new ministers will look at it very quickly.”

When the decision to close the Ukraine Family Scheme and tighten the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship criteria was implemented – just days before the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion – officials dismissed widespread warnings the move would keep families apart as “cynical scaremongering”.

Lord Dubs is a veteran campaigner for refugees (PA)
Lord Dubs is a veteran campaigner for refugees (PA)

But in addition to Anna’s case, the Refugee Council and charity Safe Passage have highlighted multiple examples of Ukrainian children left unable to join family in Britain as a result of Ukrainians without permanent leave to remain now being unable to act as sponsors.

Dr Wanda Wyporska, chief executive at Safe Passage International, told The Independent: “Since Sunak’s government changed the rules in February, we’ve been contacted by many such Ukrainian parents in the UK who are desperate to reunite with their children but are now prevented from doing so.

“It’s shameful that these families, having been separated by war and conflict, are now kept apart by these Home Office rules. The new government must urgently change the rules so displaced Ukrainians can reunite with their close family members in the safety of the UK.

“The UK rightly offered safe refuge to many Ukrainians fleeing the horrors of war. With the conflict showing no sign of abating, it would be wrong to continue preventing children from safely joining their mums and dads in the UK.”

Also pleading with the new government to “take urgent steps to help families who have been torn apart to reunite safely”, Jon Featonby, chief policy analyst at the Refugee Council, added: “This includes reopening the scheme for Ukrainian families alongside removing the restrictions that prevent refugees from other parts of the world from being with their loved ones.”

Urging the new government to change the legislation “as soon as possible”, Oleksandra added: “It’s important because I think there are a lot of families in the same situation and it should be easier for them, they shouldn’t [have to] worry about this process.

“They should change the legislation as soon as possible and this will be easier for a lot of families. I have a lot of friends in Europe and they don’t have this issue.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our Ukraine schemes are kept under continual review as we look to provide stability for those we have welcomed to the UK and those who still need our sanctuary.”

It is understood that the new home secretary Yvette Cooper – who has herself acted as a Homes for Ukraine sponsor – is yet to decide on the future of current Home Office policies.