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Visagate: Disabled Ukrainian family told to ‘fuck off’ by British official in Paris

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L to R: Oksana, Veronika and Yakiv Voloshchuk. Photo: Kim Wilsher

They were also asked for £2,200 to complete the visa application form. “Everyone in Poland was wonderful to Ukrainians, and everyone in France was wonderful to us, so different from the British reception.”

Paris, Friday 11 March 2022

by Kim Willsher of The Guardian

A British Ukrainian stuck in France with his wife and daughter for eight days after they were turned away by British border guards at Calais were detained a second time by the UK authorities on their way back to London on Monday evening.

After Irish Ferries agreed to reissue their non-refundable ferry ticket from 27 February, the couple and their daughter set off from Paris. A few hours later Yakiv called to say they had been detained again by Border Force. They were released shortly afterwards and allowed to travel to the UK.
Now the couple is worried sick about son Denys, 19, who has remained at their home in Termopil in western Ukraine, around 200km from the Polish border but who is partially deaf and also diabetic. 
Voloshchuk, who has a British passport,  came to the UK in 1995, and obtained UK nationality in 1998. Between 1996 and 2006 when he had a stroke, he was a London bus driver, but set up his own building company after being deemed unfit to drive buses.
As soon as the Russians invaded Ukraine, Voloshchuk  set off from his two-bedroom council home in Uxbridge to drive to the Polish border. He says he was told by the UK border guards at Dover that he should pick up his family and drive back to Calais and that he would be allowed to cross. However, on returning to Calais he was told he could not cross the Channel to the UK and was being temporarily detained under IS81, which gives immigration officers “authority to detain for further examination”.
Priti Patel, Home Secretary leaving Downing Street. (Peter Summers/Getty Images)
“At Dover I was told I could drive my wife and daughter straight back through Calais because they were my family and child.  Instead, British immigration held us for five hours at Calais. I told them my daughter had to eat because she is diabetic and asked if I could go out and buy some food. They said, if I left that was it.  They brought her some biscuits and crisps, but she’s not allowed to eat those.  I was given two choices, go to Paris or Brussels and apply for visas or be refused entry for my wife and daughter to the UK.
“Here we found the only helpful British person we had come across.”
“In Paris they said to fill in an online form, but we got to the bit where they were asking for £2,200 per person for medical insurance and could get no further.  It had to be paid at once or you couldn’t go any further with the form. So we went to the British embassy to ask for help. I showed my British passport but the embassy said they couldn’t do anything to help and we were in the wrong place.  They asked the French police patrolling outside the embassy to escort us away, which they did after examining our papers.  Then we went to the British consulate. Here we found the only helpful British person we had come across. He gave us €50 so we could take a taxi to a hotel and he called the visa section to ask them to help us fill in the form without paying the £2,200 each. He was the only person who helped us and I am grateful to him. He said unfortunately it was not in his power to help us more.”
The British Government visa service was put out to private tender and the £100 million contract is run by a company called TLSContact. Their website boasts: “We provide innovative visa processing, consular and travel support services that deliver outstanding citizen experiences.”
“We went back to the visa application centre the following day but we had already spoken to the Guardian by then and one of them came out and he was very angry that we had spoken to the press and told us to ‘fuck off’. He was shouting and being so rude to us, he made my daughter cry. I said ‘why are you making a child cry like this, why are you scaring her and told him I would be making an official complaint.’ Suddenly, he was all nice with us.”
After five very expensive days in a hotel on the outskirts of Paris, the Voloshchuks were put in touch with Sarah Preston, an English woman living in Burgundy, who has been helping Ukrainians fleeing the war find accommodation.
“We could not afford to stay in a hotel, we were running out of money. So we travelled down to a farm in the countryside and stayed with a man who had a castle.”
The family was put up by Michel Guyot who owns the Château de Saint-Fargeau, but found themselves 200km further away from their destination …in the wrong direction.
“Everyone in Poland was wonderful to Ukrainians, and everyone in France was wonderful to us. They organised a barbecue and showed us the castle and made me a birthday cake. I could not have met nicer people, but we needed to get back to the UK.”
Yakiv says he has heard that thousands of Ukrainians have been turned away from Calais and sent back to Paris to make their visa applications, including lone women with young children.
“I don’t understand it, all it would take is a few people and computers at Calais to check people out.  I can understand the Home Office wants to stop some people coming to the UK, but we are not coming by choice but because of war, and we are not coming to collect benefits. I have a house where they can stay, and once my daughter has learned English she can go to school and my wife can work. We don’t want benefits. My family had everything in Ukraine, a big flat, jobs, a nice car, everything they needed. They have never claimed money from any government.” He added “All I will ask is that the Home Office makes it easy for those with British citizenship to bring their families, their wives, children, parents, grandparents to the UK to save them from this war.”
Oksana, who trained as a nurse before becoming an estate agent in Ukraine,  added: “I had a good experience in Poland and in France but from the English authorities…I cannot understand why they are doing this to us. We are not leaving by choice.  People are being shuttled back and forth between Calais and Paris, but why is this such a big deal. Why not set up two computers and five people in Calais to check biometric passports and issue visas. There are people with no money, no car, with babies who don’t speak the language being pushed back and forth.”
Like many of the Ukrainians forced to flee, the Voloshchuks do not want charity or handouts.  “My daughter will learn English and go to school, my wife she wants to work. The UK needs nurses, she will retrain and be a nurse,” Yakiv said.  I don’t think she or my daughter can go back to Ukraine now after everything that has happened. I will not want them to go.”
Married couple forced to live in different countries by the home office 
Yakiv and Oksana lived in separate countries after the UK authorities refused permission for her to move to the UK with her children when Veronika was nine years old. Yakiv says he appealed against the refusal but by the time it came to court two years later, Veronika was older and his two-bedroom home was not deemed large enough to allow the children separate bedrooms. “I told them I would rent a bigger place if they came but the judge wouldn’t agree,” Yakiv said.
Yakiv fights to hold back tears as his wife speaks of her fears for her son who is now part of a Ukrainian security detail patrolling Termopil but who has Type I diabetes, and is partially deaf in one ear.  (Later, Yakiv says one of his son’s hearing aids has broken and he needs to find £5,500 to replace it. He is not asking for money, but explaining why they are so worried about him.)
“I am in contact with him every hour. I wanted him to come with us, but they wouldn’t let him leave and he didn’t want to. He has said he wants to stay and defend Ukraine but I don’t know how long he can survive without me to look after him,” Oksana said. She is also worried about her parents Mykola and Maria, who are both 63. 
“I never thought Russia would invade Ukraine until the day Russia invaded Ukraine,” Yakiv said. “Never.” In Termopil every second or third family has relatives and links with Russia. “Putin will not stop if he overruns Ukraine, he and his small clique of generals are all ex KGB who dream of the old Soviet Union.”
The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is, on the other hand, a hero to the family.
“He is a good man, an ordinary person like us and he has our respect.   He is our hero,” Oksana said.
Yakiv adds: “Putin will never take Ukraine. Even if he wins this war there will be resistance in the forests, everywhere.”
Kim Willsher is an award winning journalist, writer and foreign correspondent for the Guardian and Observer who has reported on major news events of the last 30 years: the Romanian revolution; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chernobyl and conflicts in the Balkans, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, the Congo and the Middle East. She is one of the first journalists to have visited North Korea to report undercover on the famine.

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