Derby family told they can't take Ukrainian refugees because their house is too small

Martyn Knezevic says his family should be able to host a family from Ukraine Credit: BPM Media

A family have been told by Derby City Council that their home is not "adequate" to house a family of fleeing refugees from Ukraine.

Martyn Knezevic, 36, from Allenton like many people across the country, saw the devastating images from Ukraine and wanted to welcome a fleeing family into their home.

Martyn lives in Allenton with his partner and their five children, Kiaran, 6, Sienna, 7, Alfie, 9, Ethan, 11 and Jayden 13.

After signing up for the Homes for Ukraine scheme, Martin found a family on Facebook to house at the three-bedroom property the Knezevic family rents from Derby Homes.

After being contacted by Derby City Council, and told everything was "ok", the process for sorting visas for the Ukrainian family - a grandmother, a mum and her three year-old daughter - began. But this is where the "nightmare" experience began.

First the girl, Angelina, was not given a visa to come to England as she didn't have a valid passport. Martyn was contacted by Derby Homes and told that his property did not have enough room to house the family.

Even though his house is quite full, Martyn argues that if all his family as well as the family from Ukraine are happy with it, he should be allowed to house them.

Prior to the rejected application Martyn sat his family down and as a collective made the decision to give the fleeing family their front living room.

"They lived near Kyiv so the things they have seen, they have lost everything. They have been shelled and you're telling me this (his house) is a worse place to live.

"I had spoken to the mum and they were happy with the arrangements I had set out. If they are happy to live here why should they be turned down, it is ridiculous".

A Ukrainian soldier look through binoculars at a military check point, in Lityn, Ukraine. Credit: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

Martyn was told the Ukrainian family would be contacted as his application had been rejected, but this wasn't the case.

Weeks after being contacted by Derby Homes, he received a message informing him that the grandmother, Svetlana, was on her way to Stansted Airport in London, whilst Angelina and her mum waited in Ukraine for an approved visa.

Martyn and his family have welcomed Svetlana into their home but said due to the rejected application she has not been able to claim any of the benefits she is entitled to under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. This includes the £350-a-month 'thank-you' payment to the host family, which Martyn says he would give to Svetlana to help her buy things for herself.

Being on disability benefits due to a crippling health condition, Martyn has been supporting Svetlana using his own benefits. However he says Svetlana really wants her own independence.

"She'll cook and clean but she is very upset because she feels like there has been no real help. She really wants to work to send money to her family back in Ukraine

"We have had no luck for any financial help for her. Why should she be neglected, I can't really do anything to help her", said Martyn.

One of Svetlana's fears is that she will be moved from the house which she now calls home due to the initial housing inspection by Derby Homes Housing Standards team.

The Derby family have welcomed Svetlana with open arms, even with some of the Knezevic children calling her "nanny".

"We love her, but Svetlana is terrified about her grandchild and daughter back in Ukraine. She went to sleep and woke up to war and all she wants is to see her family safe.

"She has said she would rather go home than be moved around to alternate hosts. It is costing me a fortune housing her without the support, but I will continue doing so because she is now part of our family".

Despite the financial burden, and the lack of benefits for Svetlana, Martyn's biggest concern is getting Angelina's visa approved and ensuring that she and her mum escape Ukraine. Martyn said: "There is adequate space in the living room for three people.

"I'd still do it with all three over here, but they won't give this three-year-old girl who is escaping an actual war a visa. They have split this family apart and that is disgusting".

Vladimir Putin continues to be accused of war crimes over his invasion of Ukraine Credit: Mstyslav Chernov/AP

A spokesperson for Derby City Council said: “The role of a sponsor is very rewarding, but also challenging and we support any resident who wishes to apply to the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

"We need to ensure that any potential property is safe for guests and in a suitable condition.

"Our Housing Standards team carry out accommodation checks as a matter of urgency in all cases.

"In this instance, the accommodation had insufficient room for the guests to stay. In cases such as this, we contact the host and guests to help secure or provide alternative accommodation, or rematch with another host".

A Government spokesperson said: “Ukrainian arrivals can claim benefits from day one and we are giving councils the funds they need to help them rebuild their lives here.

"Applications are usually processed in the order they are received but cases vary in complexity and it is right we have safeguarding checks in place to ensure the safety of Ukrainians arriving in the UK.”"We are aware of this case and are looking into the issues raised".