For the second time in her life Kristina Dubyna is a refugee in her own country. Only this time her fears and anxiety over the future for herself and four-year-old son Lev are being compounded by British bureaucracy.
The 40-year-old English teacher and college administrator fled her home in Kyiv, along with her husband and son, on 24 February as the first Russian missiles began to strike.
“We had to leave the city,” she says. “I already have refugee status and I know what bombs mean.”
Sky Senior Technical Supervisor Paul Brown met Kristina when they were both visiting friends in Kyiv in 2012. They hit it off and have remained in touch since.
Kristina was staying with Paul in London in 2014 when she became a refugee for the first time.
Originally from Luhansk in the Donbas region, when she returned to Ukraine she was told she could not go home.
Russian-backed separatists had attempted to annex the east of the country and it was not safe to travel there.
After finding a place in a Kyiv hostel, through courage and determination, she rebuilt her life, working in a private English-speaking school, marrying and having her son, Lev.
When Russian invaded Ukraine, Paul, who had kept in touch with Kristina over the years via social media, offered his home to her and Lev.
Standing in the way is the British visa system for Ukrainian refugees.
‘I was very happy when Paul said we could stay’
Kristina’s husband, being of fighting age, has had to return to Kyiv, leaving mother and son at the home of her great aunt in Ozerna, in western Ukraine.
She says things are so difficult she may have to return to the Ukrainian capital, but is still hoping to come to the UK.
“I was very happy when Paul proposed for us to come and stay at his place in London until the war is over.
“So I applied for a British visa on the first day when the Sponsorship Scheme started to work – 18 March.”
The UK Visas and Immigration Service confirmed receipt of her application on the same day. She then realised she would have to make a second application for four-year-old Lev.
This was completed and sent, with Paul’s help, on 22 March, and again receipt was confirmed.
An email on the 23 March said her application was with the decision-making centre, but nothing about Lev. Since then there has been silence from the Home Office.
Whole visa system is a ‘shambles’
Back in London Paul has done everything he can to make the process as easy as possible.
His home has been checked by his local council Haringey to make sure it is suitable to house Kristina and Lev and he has undergone compulsory criminal record checks.
In fact it was through the council that he discovered that Kristina’s visa had been approved, but the council was powerless to act as visas are a matter for the Home Office.
In response to Paul’s inquiry, Fiona Wilkinson from Haringey council wrote: “Everything is good to go in terms of you welcoming your guests into your home.
“The central data base is showing that Kristina’s visa has been issued, but Lev’s is pending.”
Paul describes the whole system as “a shambles”.
Back in western Ukraine, Kristina is beginning to lose hope. “If we do not get our visas in the next few days, we will go back to Kyiv because we will not have anywhere to stay.
“There are so many refugees and I simply do not have enough money to live and no one knows how long we will have to wait.”
In a statement to Sky News, the Home Office said: “In response to Putin’s barbaric invasion we have launched one of the fastest and biggest visa schemes in UK history. In just four weeks, over 40,000 visas have been issued so people can rebuild their lives in the UK.
“Applications are normally processed in date order from when applicant documents are uploaded. The Home Office is aware some applicants have been waiting nearly three weeks for their applications to be progressed or an outcome to be communicated.
“We acknowledge that this is unacceptable and we are working to resolve this and continue to speed up the processing of applications.”