'They're here' Ukrainian orphans finally arrive in the UK en route to Scotland thanks to Dnipro Kids charity
The children, aged between one and 18, and their carers were supposed to leave Poland on Monday but were held up after key paperwork was not provided in time.
They clapped and cheered as their plane touched down in the UK.
The flight finally touched down in Heathrow on Wednesday evening and the group are en route to Callander in Stirling, where accommodation has been arranged for them.
The operation, which was a combined effort from charities Magen David Adom UK, Save A Child and Dnipro Kids, saw children rescued from five orphanages in an evacuation dubbed “Project Light”.
The group left Warsaw in Poland on Wednesday afternoon on a Virgin Atlantic flight after they were evacuated from Ukraine over a week ago.
Sally Becker, founder of Save A Child, was on the plane and reflected on the moment it touched down in London.
She said: “Well, everybody was clapping. First of all they looked out the windows and they could see the lights.
“And I was saying ‘It’s London” It’s London!’ And they were just looking completely amazed because of course they’ve never flown before, and it really did look like jewels in the night.
“And as it touched down they all started to clap. But not like people clap on an ordinary flight which sometimes happens, this was 61 of them all clapping and cheering, and they were so happy.”
Ms Becker added: “The main thing is they’re here, they have sanctuary, temporary sanctuary and they’re safe.
“But thousands more left behind, I don’t just mean necessarily orphans, although there are orphans, but ordinary children, children who are being shelled, who are being shot at, and I just hope that we’ll be able to help a lot more children.”
Ms Becker said the group of 54 includes two young women – a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old – who are connected to one of the orphanages.
“Two girls came out as well, who belong to the orphanage, but they weren’t able to come under the banner…they weren’t able to come because one is 19 and one is 21.
“And you can’t be officially part of an orphanage once you reach 18. But for all intents and purposes, those girls see them all as their brothers and sisters.
“And the mother of the orphanage, the guardian, she calls mother, and they were going to be left behind.
“So we managed quickly last night to find a sponsor in Scotland who was connected to Dnipro Kids who said ‘You can use me as the sponsor’ and then we asked the British Embassy, the Home Office, to do their best to absolutely pull out all the stops to expedite the visas.
“They said ‘We don’t know if we can do it in time for the flight’,” she said.
Ms Becker said the visas were indeed sorted on time, adding: “I don’t know how the British Embassy did it but they did.”
Nicola Sturgeon tweeted a message of welcome to the children from the Ukrainian orphanage after they arrived in Scotland.
She wrote: “A warm welcome to Scotland @DniproKids – I know you’d all rather be at home in Ukraine but you’ll find love, care and support here for as long as you need it.”
Robert Brown from the charity said it and Stirling Council were “committed to giving the children a wonderful time so that they can escape the trauma of what they’ve been through, and we can turn their experience into an adventure they’ll remember for the rest of their lives”.
Speaking about the arrival in London, Magen David Adom UK chief executive Daniel Burger said there was “total jubilation, celebration” and described it as a “wonderful uplifting experience”.
He said: “It’s great. It was a really surreal, fabulous experience which I’m privileged to have been able to play a small part in today.”
“Save a Child and a number of other parties have made the most unbelievable effort in getting these children to safety.
“When the call came in to try and help facilitate bringing them to the UK, we wanted to do whatever it took.
“This mammoth operation has only been possible thanks to so many people’s generosity,” he said.
Shai Weiss, chief executive at Virgin Atlantic, said: “All of us at Virgin Atlantic will do whatever we can to support the innocent victims of war in Ukraine.
“We commend our partners, MDA UK and Save A Child, for the incredible work they’ve undertaken in bringing these children to safety.
“We will continue to look for ways to use the power of our people and planes to support the humanitarian relief effort in Ukraine and stand ready to act as opportunities arise.”
The fuel for the Virgin Atlantic flight was donated free of charge by Esso Petroleum, and the outward bound leg of the flight contained five tonnes of aid from Convoy of Hope.
Permission for the group to fly was granted by the Ukrainian and Polish governments.
Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted about the group’s arrival, thanking her team at the Home Office, the Ukrainian and Polish authorities, the Scottish Government and Virgin Atlantic.
“The care they will receive will go some way to heal their suffering,” she said.
The youngsters are expected to spend a number of weeks in the Callander area before moving to Edinburgh.
SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford MP said: “This is a deeply emotional moment for everyone involved as the Dnipro Kids finally arrive in Scotland, where they will be safe, secure and well looked-after.
“As delighted as I am to see them reach sanctuary in Scotland, we all hope that this will be a temporary stay, and that peace will soon come to Ukraine so they can safely return as they wish.”