Edinburgh social worker fears for friend ‘alone in a war zone’ amid Homes For Ukraine delays

A Ukrainian woman is stranded alone “in the middle of a war zone” as she waits for a UK visa after weeks of delays, her friend and sponsor in Edinburgh has said.

Marcin Zawisza, a Polish-born social worker from the capital, said he is worried about Olena Stadnik, 33, who is stuck near the Russian-occupied city of Kherson in southern Ukraine.

The 40-year-old has been a family friend of Ms Stadnik for two decades and applied to the Homes For Ukraine scheme on March 18 to offer her his spare room – but, despite being accepted the following day, he has not heard anything since.

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“I can’t focus and I’m constantly checking my emails for any news about my Homes For Ukraine application,” Mr Zawisza said.

A picture shows damages in a building entrance after the shelling by Russian forces of Constitution Square in Kharkiv

“It’s been hard because I have other friends still in Ukraine but my flat is too small to offer it to everyone, so I picked Olena as she is on her own.

“I don’t understand why the Government is taking so long to process everything because all these people are in a desperate situation.

“It’s heartbreaking … I think they should be prioritising people like my friend who are actually still stuck in the middle of a war zone.”

Mr Zawisza said the delay is making it difficult for Ms Stadnik to escape the war as she is concerned about leaving Ukraine without having a place to go.

He added that she was forced to flee the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, after her home was bombed and travelled south, and is now “moving around a lot” in the region near Kherson – a city Russia claimed control over in early March.

“Olena is in one of the worst places in Ukraine and even going to a safer country will be too dangerous because she will be travelling on her own through a war zone,” Mr Zawisza said.

“She’s been thinking about entering Crimea but we will have to see how easy that will be because apparently they are shooting people there.

“We have been discussing how she can escape and the safest route at the moment would be for her to travel into Russia.

“I know it sounds a bit funny but there’s no war in Russia, and then she can fly from Moscow to Istanbul in Turkey, and then to UK.”

Mr Zawisza, who moved to Edinburgh from Poland in 2004, said it has been “heartbreaking” to follow the situation in Ukraine and that he feels “helpless”.

“For Polish people it’s hard because we want to help but we feel quite useless, especially if we are far away like myself,” he said.

“I’ve had to download a special messenger app because some of the social media in Ukraine doesn’t work anymore and I am trying to stay in touch with my friends out there.

“I wanted to travel to Ukraine to help people but financially I just can’t afford it, so I decided to offer my home instead, but the process is just taking too long.”

A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We are moving as quickly as possible to ensure that those fleeing Ukraine can find safety in the UK through the Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes For Ukraine.

“We have streamlined the process so valid passport holders do not have to attend in-person appointments before arriving in the UK, simplified our forms and boosted caseworker numbers, while ensuring vital security checks are carried out.

“We continue to speed up visa processing across both schemes, with almost 30,000 visas issued in the last three weeks alone and thousands more expected to come through these uncapped routes.”

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