'We were given 10 minutes to get out' - Ukrainians tell their stories 

Sasha, Natalia, Ulyana and Olga have escaped war torn Ukraine

Sasha, Natalia, Ulyana and Olga have escaped war torn Ukraine - Credit: Archant

In his latest report from Krakow, in Poland, EDP editor David Powles interviews some of the Ukrainian refugees who made their way across the border and looks at what comes next for them.

Vladimir Putin probably wants us to believe he is winding down his merciless bombing of Ukraine and its people.

Tell that to 54-year-old Larisa, who I am speaking to from the safety of a Krakow hotel where she was transported to after being helped by Little Melton man Adam Hale-Sutton and his crew, who have been on a mercy mission to the Polish-Ukrainian border.

For she shows me a video taken only the day before of the fresh damage wreaked upon her home city of Chernihiv by Putin’s bombs. 

It shows destroyed buildings and large craters in the landscape left by the shells. 

“It’s still happening now,” she says through our interpreter Vita, a fellow Ukrainian assisted by the group, who is now helping to make communication between us and the refugees much easier. 

Ukrainian Larisa has escaped her war torn country

Ukrainian Larisa has escaped her war torn country - Credit: Archant

Prior to this, I heard the full harrowing story of how Larisa and her 16-year-old son Bogdan were able to escape the city and make their way to the Polish border at Medyka, where we found them visibly shocked and traumatised. 

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Their city is reckoned to be one of the worst-hit by the war so far. Many have died, buildings have been destroyed, lives torn apart.

Larisa, her son and husband lived for three weeks in the basement of their house listening to the raids, praying they would make it out safely. 

They ran out of food, so for a week they shared bread and milk with their neighbours.

And then salvation came in the form of a Croatian charity trying to help people out of the city. 

She said: “We were given ten minutes to get out. We made it across the only bridge left in the city, which we heard was destroyed the next day.” 

Three year old Ukranian Jan entertains himself while on the border.

Three year old Ukranian Jan entertains himself while on the border. - Credit: Archant

As they made it out, attacks from Russian soldiers carried on around them. She believes one of the volunteers may have been killed. 

I want to ask Larisa so many questions. However, she is clearly incredibly traumatised and regularly breaks down in tears. I’m conscious of not making matters worse.

But on the destruction caused by Putin she says this: “He is trying to destroy all that we have. He wants us to vanish, but we will not let him win.”

At this stage it is not clear what is next for Larisa and her son – or her husband who has stayed behind to look after his elderly parents. 

To add to the worry, her son has an illness that causes seizures, which she says can be made worse by stress.

Vita has explained to her that their food and hotel bills will be paid for by Adam for as long as she needs. All of the people the group is helping have been told the same. 

Through Vita, I’m also introduced to Sasha, Natalia, Ulyana and Olga. They were brought back to Krakow a week ago and are being put up in a hostel nearby. 

They want to stay in the city and find employment and are just awaiting the right paperwork.

Meanwhile, Ola and little Jan, three, who were also brought back to the Polish city from the border at Medyka, are hoping to end up in the United Kingdom. 

Their stories are testament to the fact every single person coming over the border has a different background, different needs, and different wishes.

They must all be treated as individuals therefore and time is taken to see how best to support them. 

And that’s what comes next. Having spent much of Tuesday on the road to the border and back, the following day is much slower as we speak to the Ukrainians, build a rapport and ask how we may best be of help. 

  • Tomorrow: Back to Medyka. A mercy mission to help six adults and a new born baby. 

MPs pledge to ask questions as visa delay fears grow 

Two Norfolk and Waveney MPs have now pledged to ask questions as to why the efforts to rehouse Ukrainians in the UK are so far failing to have the desired impact.

This week, the EDP has told of concerns among those working on the Poland-Ukraine border as to the time it is taking to process applications for refugees to head to the UK. 

Charity workers near to the village of Medyka told how they had so far signed up 80 Ukrainians with sponsors at home, but none had been successfully processed.

It is understood that up to at least 70 other refugees are being housed in Krakow awaiting permission to come to the UK.

Meanwhile, they say other countries are rehousing up to 200 a day.

They also raised concerns about the lack of presence from Home Office officials at the border and that the information being given to refugees was sparse.

Norwich South MP raised the issue in Parliament on Wednesday and was also due to meet a Home Office advisor to find out why the delays were happening. 

In Poland, Ukrainian mother-of-one Vita, 34, wants to seek a safe haven in the UK.

A potential sponsor has been found in Norfolk, but the process could take up to eight weeks. 

Vita, who left her home city of Kyiv with her 10-year-old son and their dog, is worried the delay could impact her son’s education so is instead considering heading to Ireland where the process is much quicker.

I also spoke to a UK lawyer, who is volunteering his services for free in Krakow to Ukrainians trying to reach this country.

The lawyer, who has asked us not to name him at this stage, described the situation as ‘chaotic’. 

On Wednesday night, South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon contacted me in Krakow to discuss the situation. 

South Norfolk Conservative MP Richard Bacon Photo: UK Parliament

South Norfolk Conservative MP Richard Bacon Photo: UK Parliament - Credit: UK Parliament

Mr Bacon said that he was aware of some Ukrainians successfully being rehomed in south Norfolk but that he would enquire as to why there appears to be a lack of presence from the Home Office on the border itself.

The government, meanwhile, has admitted the concerns being raised are valid and pledged to look at how it can speed up the process. 

None of the other Norfolk and Waveney MPs I have contacted have yet to respond.