Almost fifty orphans who were helped to safety by the Hibs fans-founded charity Dnipro Kids, will touch down in London today then head up to Scotland - after getting clearance by the UK Government.
The children left on March 8 from five orphanages in Dnipro and have been staying in a hotel near Poznan in Poland, in the dark over their future, since they were forced to flee following the invasion by Putin’s armies.
But Home Secretary Priti Patel confirmed on Thursday that the orphans could continue the journey to the UK, after visa applications stalled while the Government ‘investigated safeguarding issues’.
The youngsters, aged from two to 19, are among the first refugees expected to arrive in Scotland from Ukraine, after Nicola Sturgeon confirmed she was planning for around 3000 to arrive from this week.
After being told they got the go-ahead to fly to the UK the charity says the children – who have never been outside Ukraine – spoke of their excitement as they prepared to set off
on a chartered flight to London, before driving up to Scotland.
More than three million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, with an estimated 2 million going to neighbouring Poland. A raft of sanctions have been levelled on the
Kremlin in a bid to halt the offensive.
Katya said on Sunday: “I’m sad to leave my home, my friends and my orphanage dad behind. But I am excited to come to Scotland. I think it will be a beautiful place and people will be friendly.”
Dnipro Kids said the 12-year-old has been practising her English and likes to drink tea. She has a cat and dog who will stay on at the orphanage.
The charity’s media manager Duncan MacRae, who travelled out to Poland on March 16, said the children were ‘smiling and happy’ to get clarity after it was feared they
could be left stranded.
Speaking to the Evening News on Sunday from their hotel as they packed for travel, the 41-year-old said:
"We were going to make a big announcement but then a team who drove from Warsaw arrived to help with visa applications so that gave it away. The children are nervous and excited and have been asking lots of questions from what will life will be like to how to pack their bags.”
"They are from five different orphanages but we've taken them all on trips before so they are all good friends. They help each other through it. This is not the end of their story. It’s a new beginning for them. They are starting their new life in Scotland, though they do hope to return to Ukraine one day.
"They are in good spirits. Glad to get clarity about their immediate future. They were smiling and happy today. The UK is a place they've always dreamed of visiting but never
imagined it would happen for them. It’s not the circumstances we’d hoped to have planned a trip here for them but I’m happy we’re able to get them out safely."
The weekend was used to finalise paperwork with the British embassy team from Warsaw.
Mr MacRae said visa delay had been stressful but they got over the final hurdles with help of volunteers – who now plan to visit the children in Scotland.
"A team of volunteers worked ten hours straight with no break then we had a power cut. They got back to Warsaw at about 4am then got up early to get the paperwork done, the last piece of the puzzle.
“They said they felt lucky to be the ones to help out and they want to come visit the kids in Scotland once they are settled. It didn’t take them long to get attached to the children.”
“Many people in Edinburgh have volunteered to help out when they arrive to help them feel settled. People’s generosity has been incredible.”
The group will fly from Warsaw to Stansted on Monday before taking in some sight-seeing in London, with Buckingham Palace and the Harry Potter Museum featuring in the children’s top choices.
They will travel to Edinburgh on Wednesday for a welcome meal at Hibs stadium before going on to Callander, where they will stay together for a few weeks.
An appeal for help to find accommodation for the children saw many Scots reach out and offer various places.
Translators and other support has also been lined up by the charity, which has supported the children for 17 years.
Children from a primary school in Edinburgh have also been making cards explaining how to adapt to life in Scotland.
Mr MacRae added: “There are some we’ve been unable to get out of Ukraine from other orphanages. I’m worried about them. But I’m so glad to finally get these children out.
"We’ve managed to secure accommodation where they will all be living together initially for minimum two weeks, while the preparation for Edinburgh accommodation is finalised.”
"It’s a big journey ahead. They’ve never been on a plane before. It will be a huge relief when they get to Scotland and we’ll do anything we can to help them flourish.”
Steven Carr, chairman of Dnipro Kids who led the evacuation effort from Lviv in Ukraine and Poland, said: “We are just thankful and relieved that we are getting the kids to the safety of the UK, and to Scotland, at last. We’ve known these children and their carers for many years.”
Ian Blackford MP said: “This is an extraordinary and uplifting story – fans of a football club, moved by an orphanage visit far from home, creating a charity to work in support and
culminating in this amazing effort. They will head to Scotland where I know they will be enveloped in warmth and welcome.”