Our government has let Ukraine down - but Norfolk can make things right

Larysa Bobor, Bohdan Bobor, Viktoriya Lomakovska, Mykyta Lomakovskyi, Yan Dmytrykov and Olha Miroshnyk

Ukranian visa hopefuls, from left, Larysa Bobor, Bohdan Bobor, Viktoriya Lomakovska, Mykyta Lomakovskyi, Yan Dmytrykov on the shoulders of Nicolai (a British volunteer driver) and Olha Miroshnyk - Credit: Adam Hale-Sutton

As I write my good friend Adam Hale-Sutton is finally preparing to come home after his sabbatical helping refugees fleeing Ukraine and the attacks from Russia.

We spoke yesterday and he told me that his time away has amounted to more than seven weeks, during which he has only been able to return home briefly.

For the sacrifices they have made for the greater good, his wife Helen and children deserve as much praise as Adam himself.

But at last they will soon get to see Adam again.

And at last my new friends Larysa Bobor, her 16-year-old son Bohdan, Viktoriya Lomakovska and her 10-year-old son Mykyta and Olha Miroshnyk and her three-year-old son Yan Dmytrykov, will find sanctuary on these shores.

And while I am delighted this can finally happen, I also remain completely and utterly infuriated at the time it has taken and the lengths that have been needed to get their visas approved.

When the group of us out in Poland first helped these six to the safety of a Krakow hotel, I'm pretty sure none of them had an idea what would be in store for them next. Initially they were just happy to be safe and away from the horrors unfolding in their homes.

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But once those initial feelings had gone, neither they, or the group helping them, expected the next phase would be so complex, difficult and time consuming.

After hour-upon-hour of complicated form filling, which even a British lawyer found completely and utterly over the top, there followed day upon day of inaction from the Home Office.

The group made their way to Dunkirk to await clearance, expecting to be there just a few days. 

More than a week later, it took pressure from Lord Dannatt, the former chief of the British army himself, to help get the visas cleared and lead us to where we are now.

Which makes me wonder what complications lay in store for those who do not have the support network afforded to this group?

Of course I understand that processes and checks need to be in place. I understand why this country wouldn't simply just wave people through without question.

However, having read article after article highlighting the same problems, I will never be convinced this situation has been handled well by our government.

Viktoriya Lomakovska, Bohdan Bobor and Larysa Bobor celebrating outside the Ukrainian embassy in Brussels

Viktoriya Lomakovska, left, Bohdan Bobor and Larysa Bobor celebrating outside the Ukrainian embassy in Brussels after getting Bohdan's passport renewed - Credit: Adam Hale-Sutton

And that includes the frustrations highlighted at the border of Ukraine and Poland, where I will never forget the disbelief of seeing volunteers from a charity trying to manage our support service to the refugees.

It saddens me to say that I agree with those who claim the complex process is a deliberate ploy to keep the numbers heading here reasonably low.

Whatever the reasons, be it concerns about the long term impact, Brexit, finance or something else, this doesn't sit well with me.

I want to live in a country that does all it can to help citizens like those in Ukraine who are being forced to flee the country they call home for a war they do not want to fight.

Fortunately, when it comes to the Norfolk people, there are a large number who have been prepared to go above and beyond to overcome the barriers placed in front of Ukrainians seeking refuge.

The emails and phone calls I've had over the last two weeks, from those raising money, willing to share their homes or just wanting to do something to help, has been truly overwhelming and does this county proud.

Four of Adam's group will come to Norfolk. For as long as it takes they will settle, put their children in school and find a job. All the time they will just want to get home as soon as they can.

I know the good people of Norfolk will welcome them with open arms and show just how much of a warm and caring county this is.