Girl, 5, escapes war-torn Ukraine to reach Staffordshire host family after months of visa troubles

  • ITV Central journalist Rosie Dowsing reports on how five-year-old Alika Zubets is settling in to her new home in North Staffordshire.

A five-year-old girl from war-torn Kharkiv has finally made it to safety in Staffordshire after months of visa problems.

Alika Zubets has now settled into her new home in Audley in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, and her new teachers say she is doing well at school.

Alika's new sponsor family had to resort to the official process of taking full parental responsibility of the child for three years, just to get her away from Russian bombing at her home in Kharkiv.

Alika was was due to arrive in June with her grandmother to live with sponsor, Dr Maggie Babb, a paediatric anaesthetist at Royal Stoke University Hospital, and her family in Audley in Newcastle-Under-Lyme.

Alika's grandmother Tetiana had already settled at Maggie's home and was set to travel back to Ukraine to collect Alika when her documents were issued.

But without her parents, the Home Office classed her as an unaccompanied minor and did not issue a visa via the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Alika tells ITV News Central that she likes her new home and school, but it's very different to Kharkiv.

Alika's parents are unable to leave Kharkiv, with her father working in a military hospital and her mother looking after her disabled mother.

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

Four-year-old girl Alika, from war-torn Kharkiv has finally made it to safety in Staffordshire with her grandmother

In July, Alika was once again sent back to Ukraine after being denied access to the UK for a second time - despite having a sponsor willing to look after her.

It came after her sponsor Maggie was told Alika's visa had been accepted but was shortly revoked after government officials said it was "approved in error".

Sponsor, Maggie had been working hard to get Alika to North Staffordshire.

Maggie, who has five children of her own, said at the time:

"We had been trying to find out where we had to pick up Alika's visa from so we could make her travel arrangements, but then a woman from the Home Office rang me to say it had been issued in error.

"We were so close and it has been snatched away. I am speechless."

"Tania and her family are extremely anxious about it all. It's potentially very tragic and she must be thinking about it every waking moment."

"If Alika is stuck in Kharkiv and gets killed, how could we ever live with that? I feel like I have a relationship with this little girl that I have never met and if anything happens to her I will be devastated."

Alika's sponsor family swore they would not give up until bringing her to safety.

To speed things up, they had to officially foster her, taking parental responsibility for three years.

Relieved to finally be welcoming Alika into her home, Maggie said:

"It’s been a long road to get to this point, but with a lot of determination, it now seems that Alika will, at last be able to stay here safely until the awful situation this family finds themselves in improves enough to allow them to be together again.

Maggie added it's 'lovely' to see Tetiana so happy to be safe with her granddaughter Alika again, and says she has received many messages from Alika's parents in Kharkiv, thankful that their daughter is finally safe.

In response to the visa delays, a Government spokesperson said:

“The Homes for Ukraine scheme was set up quickly and was not designed to meet the needs of unaccompanied children who are especially vulnerable.  

“An expansion of the scheme to allow parents to safely send their children to the UK to stay with a sponsor they know and trust was launched in July following intensive work with local authorities and other experts to establish robust safeguarding checks.”