Ukrainian toddler sent back to warzone after being unable to secure UK visa

A young girl has been sent back to Ukraine after being unable to secure a UK visa despite having a sponsor.

Alika Zubets, aged four, was considered to be an ‘unaccompanied minor’ under Home Office regulations, as she was travelling with her grandmother Tanya, rather than her parents.

Alika fought to come to the UK to join her extended family in Newcastle, after she and Tanya fled to Poland with her parents’ written consent in March, Stoke-on-Trent Live reports.

Tanya was granted a 90-day visa on April 12 but Alika’s application has been hit by numerous delays – while Tanya’s right to remain in Poland is set to expire on June 25.

Alika Zubets, aged four, may have to return to Ukraine despite having a sponsor in North Staffordshire
Alika Zubets, aged four, may have to return to Ukraine despite having a sponsor in North Staffordshire

However, it has emerged that on June 13 the tot had to return to the city of Kharkiv, where hundreds of civilians have been killed, after her desperate family felt that they had run out of options.

Tanya took her to Kyiv, where they met her mum Arena, who is the sole carer for her own disabled mother, and spent an hour together, before Arena and Alika returned to Kharkiv by train.

Tanya is now set to travel to North Staffordshire later this week so that she can give her biometric data and receive her residency permit.

And if the Home Office agrees to grant a visa for Alika, she will then return to collect her granddaughter and bring her back to safety in the UK.

Alika and Tanya’s sponsor Dr Maggie Babb, of Audley, said it was ‘beyond disgusting’ that Alika had been forced to return to Ukraine.

The 53-year-old, who is a paediatric anaesthetist at the Royal Stoke University Hospital, said: “I don’t know anyone who isn’t incensed by this.

“The British government will have blood on its hands if anything happens to her – or to Tanya if and when she goes back to collect her.

“It must have been heart-breaking for this little girl to leave her parents after being told it was safer to be away from them, and now she has gone back and will have to potentially go through additional trauma that could have been avoided.

Alika Zubets and her grandmother Tanya, who she is travelling with
Alika Zubets and her grandmother Tanya, who she is travelling with

“I felt that there was a glimmer of hope but now I am angry, upset and frustrated. It’s beyond disgusting and I can’t see how it is justifiable.”

Alika’s parents Dima and Arena gave written consent for their daughter to leave with Tanya on March 24 and the pair headed for Poland.

But because Tanya only has temporary notarised legal guardianship of Alika the four-year-old was unable to obtain a visa for the UK under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme.

Government guidance states: “Unaccompanied children and orphans are not eligible to apply under the scheme. Under 18s applying for the scheme must be applying with their parent or legal guardian, or to join them in the UK.”

Alika and Tanya's sponsor, Dr Maggie Babb
Alika and Tanya’s sponsor, Dr Maggie Babb

Alika’s parents had to remain in Kharkiv – just 25 miles from the Russian border – as father Dima is unable to leave the country and mother Arena is the sole carer for her own disabled mother.

But Tanya’s cousin Oksana lives in Newcastle with her husband Karl Stubbs and Oksana’s parents – who Tanya lived with as a teenager – are also now living in the town under the Ukrainian family scheme.

Karl, who is the chair of the new Newcastle branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, said that the family would not give up.

The 63-year-old said: “I feel so guilty and ashamed about this situation. The government is not taking into account the trauma and hardship suffered by people who have fled a war zone.

“Alika is an amazing little girl. She told Tanya ‘it’s all right, Babushka, I can see Mummy and Daddy for a few days and then be with you again soon’.

“She is not an unaccompanied minor – she was with her own grandmother. We just want to get this resolved and we will not give up.”

Stoke-on-Trent Live has approached the Home Office for their response.

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