A Ukrainian nanny living in the UK has told of her desperate struggle to get her 15-year-old brother out of their war-torn homeland as she described her fears for her parents who have stayed behind.
Nataliia Kolodii flew to Warsaw on Friday and met her brother Viktor, who had embarked on an almost 24-hour journey from Kyiv via Lviv after his parents took the difficult decision for him to travel alone in the hope he could get to safety.
Ms Kolodii, who has lived in the UK for nine years and is based in Maidenhead, Berkshire, told the PA news agency they now feel “stuck” in Poland after she learned her initial attempt at getting him a visa had not worked.
The 37-year-old described the visa process as “confusing” and said her friends in England were shocked to hear of her experience.
She said she called a number on the official Government website on Thursday and spoke to someone who assured her she would get confirmation about her brother’s visa within two days.
But she said she was then shocked and upset to be told later this was not the case.
She said the process “should be more clear” and consideration given to the fact people applying for the scheme are likely to be under intense stress when doing so.
She told PA: “I texted my friends and said we are stuck in Poland and everybody asks ‘Why, England said you don’t need anything, they are welcoming you’. I said ‘No, it’s not like that. I am stuck here’.
“It’s (a scheme) for Ukrainian refugees, that means maybe not everybody is perfect in English. It should be something like okay, press this button, go to this website, fill out this form. I also watched YouTube videos, but I still couldn’t (understand it). Maybe it’s my tiredness.”
Ms Kolodii described feeling “lost” and said the outbreak of war in her home country has been “heartbreaking” and “like the end of the world”, reducing her sleep to two or three hours a night as she worries for her family.
While trying to get her brother to safety she has been overcome with concern for her parents and grandmother who are living in a suburb of Kyiv.
Her 86-year-old Russian grandmother is not fit to travel and Ms Kolodii Said her mother has insisted she will not leave her behind.
“It’s (my family) everything I have,” Ms Kolodii said. “And I just imagine, to lose them all, I don’t know if I could take it.”
Her mother wrote a letter, signed by both of Viktor’s parents, saying they “just want our child to escape from here” and for their daughter to be considered his legal guardian, recording a video saying the same.
Ms Kolodii said she has since applied for a visa online and will take a five-hour bus journey with her brother to the Polish city of Rzeszow on Sunday, where the UK has opened a new pop-up visa application center in recent days.
But she said as she needs to get back to the UK for work and her son there, she hopes the process can be handled as quickly as possible, as she does not want to leave her teenage brother alone in Poland.
The UK’s initial visa offer was restricted to immediate family but widened on Tuesday to include parents, grandparents and siblings, with applications opening on Friday as Home Secretary Priti Patel paid a visit to the Polish border with Ukraine.
The Home Office said it has increased capacity to other countries including Hungary, Poland and Moldova, and that the combined total number of appointments in the region will increase to 6,000 from this coming week.
An emotional Ms Kolodii said Ukraine is “a peaceful nation”, adding: “We never thought this war would start.”
She rejected any suggestion Russian-speaking people – including her own family – had ever been pressured by Ukrainian officials to drop the language.
She said: “Putin tells (people) that Ukraine or the government pressure Russian-speaking people, or just bully. Never, ever happened to our family.”
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.