Policy change brings fresh hope for Ukrainian children told to return to war zone

4-year-old Alika Zubets was sent back to Ukraine, despite having relatives and a host family in Staffordshire. Credit: ITV News

The policy allowing children from Ukraine to enter the UK has changed, meaning they will now be able to enter without a parent or guardian so long as they have parental consent.

It comes after four-year-old Alika Zubets was sent back to Ukraine, despite the fact she was travelling with her grandmother and had a sponsor waiting for her in North Staffordshire.

The government says the new policy will initially apply to more than a thousand unaccompanied minors who have already applied under the Homes for Ukraine visa scheme.

Speaking in a debate in parliament this morning before the change was made, Newcastle-under-Lyme Conservative MP Aaron Bell, who is working with Alika's host family, raised the issue.

"Do you agree with me that the case of Alika Zubets demonstrates the need for an urgent resolution of this issue?" he asked.

Until now, children under the age of 18 have been unable to get to the UK under the scheme unless they are with or joining a parent or guardian.

Today (Wednesday 22 June) Communities Secretary Michael Gove said: "The new policy will initially apply to the 1,000 children who have already applied to the Home Office but are unable to travel as they are not travelling or reuniting with a parent or guardian."

"After working closely with the Ukrainian government, the changes will enable a child to apply for a visa if they have proof of parental consent," he added.

The consent must then be certified by an authority approved by the Ukrainian government, which includes Ukrainian consulates abroad.

Mr Gove also stressed that the sponsor should be someone who is "personally known" to the parents, except in "exceptional circumstances" and that extensive checks will be carried out by local authorities before any visas are granted.

The news comes after ITV News Central reported the story of Alika Zubets, a four-year-old girl who was recently denied entry to the UK and sent back to Ukraine from Poland - despite having a sponsor in North Staffordshire - because she was travelling with her grandmother rather than her parents.

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

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

The four-year-old's grandma, who was forced to travel to the UK for her own visa purposes, 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 speaking through a translator.

"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."

Their 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.

It's hoped today's announcement will mean the little girl can now be reunited with her grandmother and relatives in Staffordshire.