Bombed Ukrainian refugee family tries to reach Britain after fleeing invasion


Eight-year-old Alisa Koletvinova was supposed to have prepared for a gymnastics tournament in her hometown of Kharkiv, Ukraine on Friday.

Instead, she dyed one word search in a bare port authority build in Calais, France, when her parents frantically tried to get her safely to Britain.

Her home has been bombed, and she and her two-year-old brother Semen now have only two suitcases to their name.

“It’s completely ruined,” her father Sergei told me. “We can not go back.”

“We left everything. Me and my wife keep them strong, but the kids can’t believe what’s going on.”

Alisa has been practicing gymnastics for six years and had planned a competition in two days, but the center has been destroyed.

Semen did not understand what was happening, Sergei said, but was “very scared that the bombs would fall”.

The family hurried to embark on a crowded evacuation train in Kharkiv, joins desperately to thousands of others trying to escape Putin’s invasion. Then they headed for Britain in a car.

“There were lots of people, no tickets, just a hurry,” he said. “This whole journey from Kharkiv to France took more than five days, so my kids are very stressed, very sad. ”

Sergei said he has permanent residence in the UK but his wife, Oksana, and children do not.

The family spent Thursday and Friday in the ferry port building, where five or six employees of the Interior Ministry are stationed – on a handful of pop-up tables and chairs – to help Ukrainians process their visas.

Alisa Koletvinova, 8, draws in her coloring book while her parents wait to talk to British Home Office officials in a ferry port building (Photo credit: Leon Neal: Getty Images)

Early yesterday afternoon, another promised home office treatment center in the nearby town of Arras was still non-existent; staff at a government office opposite said it would not open until Monday and a promised briefing from French officials failed to materialize.

Sergei did not know when visas could come through, but was still hopeful.

“I hope everything goes well. I want to look to the future,” he said. “I have two children, so we’re just trying.”

Along with the family sat Yardslava Stojkiw, a Ukrainian citizen working as a nurse in the Midlands.

She traveled to Poland to meet her sister-in-law and 16-year-old nephew, who crossed the border from Ukraine on February 27, when the bombing began near their home in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.

Yardslava’s brother stayed behind to take care of their mother, who is ill.

Back home in Britain, Yardslava was ill with anxiety; she had tried to send money but they had been blocked, a hotline designed to connect the family did not work and she knew her nephew’s passport had expired.

“I was so worried and desperate that I just booked a ticket. I flew last Sunday – I joined them in Czestochowa [a city in southern Poland]. We had two beds for three people, but that’s okay because it was so blocked that we could not be upgraded. ”

They took long bus journeys to Calais with other refugees, but were the only ones on their way to Britain; “The others said ‘England does not want us’. It made me quite sad.”

The family was brought to the ferry port by British authorities on Thursday, before traveling to Lille to have their biometrics treated, and back again. Yesterday they are running out of money.

The hostel was free the first night but from the second night they would like 35 euros per person. But my credit card is almost at the limit because I have paid too much. The bus tickets were quite expensive and I was not prepared. I could not transfer English money to Polish; even at the airport, they said it was all gone. “

And the problems will continue once they reach the UK.

“My husband and I have no room. We only have a bed. We do not know [where they will stay], ”Said Yardslava. “We just want their safety.”

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