Four-year-old sent back to Ukraine despite having sponsor in North Staffordshire

ITV News Central reporter Rosie Dowsing spoke to the grandmother and prospective host of four-year-old Alika in Audley

A four-year-old girl has been sent back to Ukraine - despite having a sponsor in North Staffordshire - because she was travelling with her grandmother rather than her parents.

Members of Alika Zubets's extended family had already reached safety in Newcastle, but she and her paternal grandmother Tanya were stuck in Poland for months waiting for her UK visa to be issued.

But now she has had to return to Kharkiv, near Ukraine's frontline, unable to secure a visa under the Homes for Ukraine scheme as she was not with her parents.

While she has safely returned to them in Ukraine, the four-year-old's grandma believes her granddaughter is in significant danger given the closeness of the Russian advance to the city.

"I worry about her, and I am sending away any bad thoughts," she said.

"When I think about it I feel very bad. That's why I try not to think about something like this, I send my thoughts away. I'm not focusing on it."Sponsor Maggie Babb, who is a paediatric anaesthetist at the Royal Stoke University Hospital, has been working to try to secure a visa for Alika so that she can join her Audley home.

'How is being here less safe than being there?' asks sponsor Maggie

Maggie, who has sponsored Alika's application

"Ukraine were happy for her to travel but the home office is drawing weird distinctions about what unaccompanied means," said Ms Babb.

She adds: "I don't know the little girl. I've only met Tanya for the first time less than 24 hours ago. But they're people and they were accepting an offer of friendship and support."

"I understand safeguarding - I'm a child anaesthetist at the local University hospital so it's not that I don't take safeguarding very seriously - but how is being here less safe than being there?"

"Is something that's beyond the understanding of any sane person."

A government spokesperson told ITV News Central: "It is tragic that children have been caught up in Putin's war.

"Only under-18s who are travelling with, or reuniting with a parent or legal guardian in the UK are currently eligible for Homes for Ukraine but as we have always said we keep eligibility for all our schemes under review."Alika's parents still live in Kharkiv, her father working in a military hospital and her mother looking after her disabled mother.

But grandmother Tanya's cousin Oksana lives with her husband Karl and son Ivan in Newcastle-Under-Lyme.

"I'm confident that somebody somewhere in government, in the civil service, is going to see the sense in this and recognise that this is an untenable situation," said Karl.

"That a four-year-old girl through no fault of her own has been caused to return to a war zone."

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