My sympathy goes out to Prue Leith who, like so many thousands of people who signed up to the Homes for Ukraine scheme, has voiced her frustration at the bureaucracy and lack of information she’s received.
Like Prue, I signed up for the scheme on March 14 and received an automated ID number and acknowledgement of my interest. Then nothing.
How was I to find one of the many families desperate for safe accommodation away from an increasingly vicious, cruel war? I had no contacts in Ukraine.
Jenni Murray reveals that she will be hosting a Ukrainian mother and son, Ustym and Zoryana (pictured)
Why, I wondered, was the UK Government not putting every effort into matching up the needy with those willing, so we could welcome refugees and, as Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukraine’s president suggested this week, treat them ‘as one of your own’.
I wrote about my irritation in this column on March 17, pointing to the fact that I would need to wait for advice on how to proceed. None came, but on the 18th I received an email from a woman who’d read my plea. She knew a Ukrainian woman, Oksana, who ran a beauty business in North London. She might put me in touch with someone. She gave me Oksana’s phone number.
It was through that route, with no assistance from the Government or my local authority, that I received an email from Zoryana, who lives in the Lviv region of Ukraine. ‘Hi Jenni, Oksana told me that you can help me. I’m 38. I’m a teacher. I have a son, Ustym, aged 17. He is a good football player. Because of the war in our country, we have to leave our motherland. Nothing good here. We can hear air warnings all the time. It’s so difficult to leave my country, but we have to.’
I fully understand why Zoryana is desperate to get out quickly. She and her son are not facing the heaviest fighting — at least not yet — but Ustym is 17. His birthday is in September. Males aged 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave the country. They are expected to join the army and fight. I have two sons. If I were in Zoryana’s position, I too would do whatever I could to ensure their safety.
There is now a stream of emails and WhatsApp messages on my phone as the two of us have worked out how to get through the visa system. Happily, her subject as a teacher is English, so language has been no barrier. Buried in the email welcoming me to the Homes for Ukraine scheme, I found details of how to apply for a visa.
I sent copies of my passport and received theirs in exchange. We swapped full names, phone numbers, home and email addresses. Zoryana filled out the long complex forms for the pair of them.
On Tuesday morning this week, only seven days after filing the application, I received a text. ‘We both have visa. We are so happy! So quickly!’ There was also an email — a copy of a letter from the Home Office. ‘Thank you for your application to the Ukraine Scheme. You can now travel to the UK. Please make sure your sponsor knows you are coming.’
Jenni (pictured) says that she has little help or encouragement from her local authority. She has had to sort the arrangements out herself
Accompanying the travel permit was a letter from Michael Gove and Priti Patel: ‘We would like to send you a personal message as we welcome you to the UK… the British Government will do everything possible to support you.’
All very welcoming and it at least appears the visa system has sparked up a bit, but not all is well. Much has been made of how a sponsor’s accommodation must be checked for safety and suitability. Have I heard a peep from Barnet, my local council? No. I’m sure I would pass any DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check to ensure I’m safe to have a child living in my home. But do I have enough fire alarms, do I need a gas safety certificate, are my plugs in the right place?
Only last week, the Mail revealed how some box-ticking council inspectors had rejected homes on the basis of something as small as not having a handrail on the stairs or having steps that might be a trip hazard.
So I tried to sort it out myself, first sending an email to the Homes for Ukraine Barnet address — no reply. I found a phone number. After half an hour, a young man answered.
He did not fill me with reassurance. He didn’t know anything about me. He had no details. He assumed they’d get information eventually. ‘Not to worry, if they’ve got visas, they can come anyway. Just go ahead.’
How often have we heard that a successful government must have joined-up thinking? What’s the point of setting up a scheme to fulfil an urgent need, show off about it, then fail to ensure the right hand knows what the left is doing?
The first priority will be finding a school for Ustym so he can continue his education. We’ll need to find out if Zoryana can use her teaching skills to find a job.
If not, to what kind of benefits might she be entitled? For all of this we’ll need the help of the local authority. Not encouraging thus far. As Prue Leith has said, if this is not all sorted out soon, willing sponsors will lose heart and frankly I won’t blame them.
For us there is hope. Flights are being booked and I’m looking forward to the arrival of my little family. Zoryana was most sympathetic about my recent bout of Covid, recommending rest, vitamins, omega oils and… badger fat. Not sure if the latter was lost in translation or is a curious Ukrainian remedy. I’ll find out soon.
Covid got me kicked off my cruise ship
Earlier this month, I was all set to sail off to the sun for a fortnight on the Cunard cruise liner, Queen Elizabeth.
I was to be a speaker, but would have time for relaxing around the Canary Islands and Portugal. The dogs and cat were housed safely, my son did my lateral flow test in the morning — negative. By midday, at the dock, bags loaded, another test. Positive. No cruise for me. A couple of dozen of us sat like pariahs waiting to go home. I could have wept for the couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. And don’t let anybody tell you this strain is mild. As the Queen said, it leaves you exhausted
Britney’s baby is glorious act of defiance
Jenni said good luck to Britany Spears, 40, (pictured) on her pregnancy with her third child. She already has two sons aged 15 and 16
Finally freed from her father’s conservatorship which dominated her life — right down to birth control — Britney has announced she’s pregnant. She’s 40 and the child with 28-year-old partner Sam Asghari (pictured) will be her third — her two boys are now 15 and 16.
Good luck to her. Hope she’s happy with what’s, at last, her choice and not that of her controlling father.
She says that it is a good thing for women that hundreds of cricket clubs have stopped serving traditional refreshments
- So many men are whingeing about the news that ‘hundreds of cricket clubs have stopped serving traditional refreshments for fear of being sued over allergens’. Ah, the cricket tea, prepared by wives for husbands who’ve been batting on a sticky wicket. I can hear the sighs of relief now. No more baking cakes, no more buttering bread, no more sitting through the most boring game in the world. I was six when I watched my exhausted mother doing the tea preparations in the pavilion. I vowed then never to make a cricket tea. I never have.