British citizen Victoria Perebeynis, 53, has spent almost a month trying to bring four members of her extended family to her home near Oxford.
After weeks of turmoil, this is the moment a family of Ukrainian refugees were brought together in the UK thanks to the Sunday Mirror.
Ukrainian-born British citizen Victoria Perebeynis, 53, has spent almost a month trying to bring four members of her extended family to her home near Oxford.
Her cousin Valentina, 75, has been left broken after leaving her home with daughter-in-law Maiia Magda, 46, and grandson Glib, 12.
Maiia’s mum Ekaterina Pergat, also 75 and disabled, also fled – and was left so weak by the brutal journey across Europe that Victoria feared she wouldn’t survive.
Two weeks ago, we told how officials had ruled the group could not come to the UK.
But visas were finally granted late on Thursday night after we raised their case with the Home Office and it agreed to fast track fresh applications.
And as their Eurostar train from Paris disembarked in London’s St Pancras station on Friday, an emotional Victoria took to a nearby piano and played the Ukrainian national anthem to welcome them.
Valentina, Ekaterina and Glib arrived by train. Maiia planned to join them later by ferry as she is traveling with the family dog.
Victoria said: “I am just so grateful that they are here, I can’t really believe it’s happening. I would like to thank the Sunday Mirror for all their help.
“Ekaterina has been very disorentiated. She sometimes forgets she is not still in Ukraine. I just want her to know that she is safe, and there is no shelling or shooting here.”
This is the second time the family, originally from the Donbas region of the country, has fled Russian aggression. They were first uprooted by the conflict in 2014.
They settled in Energodar near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant before intense shelling forced them to leave everything once more at the end of the last month.
Victoria said: “My mum, who died in 2005, always told us we were lucky to never have lived through a war as the Second World War was so terrible.
“What has happened is just unbelievable.”
Follow all of today’s news on the war in Ukraine as it unfolds with our live blog
Victoria, a teacher who came to the UK in 2006, drove to meet them at the Polish border and they traveled across Europe for four days to the ferry port at Calais.
But they were turned away because the original rules stated only those with immediate family in the country could come to Britain.
The criteria was relaxed to include extended family members following public outcry – but those who qualify face being trapped in the chaotic system for months.
When Victoria had to return to the UK for work last week, her family was moved from Calais to Lille.
They faced constant journeys to a visa center in Paris to beg officials to deal with their applications.
Victoria said: “Ekaterina lost consciousness on one of the journeys and I wondered if she’d survive.
“I thought, ‘I have a disabled lady who is almost dying and a child who is always crying, what am I doing wrong?’
“Britain acts like it is welcoming refugees with open arms but it didn’t feel like that to us.
“At one point, someone in the embassy said to me, ‘Why are you trying to push us when they could go to another country?’
“But I am their only family. Can you imagine they were left in France or Germany with no one to translate for them?”
Victoria says both she and her family members are likely to need counseling because the last few weeks have left them so traumatized.
But she said: “The first thing I am going to do is take them home so they can sleep.”
Glib said he was looking forward to deciding which English football team to support and Valentina said she was “really happy” to have arrived in Britain.
But Ekaterina said: “I just can’t feel anything just now.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.