Language 'barrier' for refugee given translator who couldn't speak Ukrainian

Maria and Jez explain their ordeal to Granada Reports

A Ukrainian journalist who fled Kyiv for Manchester says her mother was provided with a translator who spoke Russian, but not Ukrainian.

Maria Romanenko's mum Tetiania came to the UK last month after being granted a visa, but on applying for the Universal Credit benefit, she received a shock.

Maria, 29, said: "I heard my mum really struggling on the phone because she was talking to this Russian translator who was ignoring the fact that she was Ukrainian and pronouncing and spelling her name in Russian even though the Ukrainian spelling of her name is different. She looked really distressed.

"I found out later that the DWP didn't have a Ukrainian interpreter. She was left mortified by the experience".

Ukrainian Journalist Maria landed in Manchester in March after a 40-hour trip to get to Poland, before flying to England.

Maria said her mother's mood had been "killed" by the experience and she didn't want to do anything that day.

"It's very insensitive," she said. "There is this stereotype that Ukrainian and Russian are the same language.

"It's wrong to say the languages are interchangeable and that a Ukrainian person wouldn't be offended by it."

Maria said her mother's mood had been "killed" by the experience.

Although the DWP has apologised, Maria's boyfriend, business consultant Jez Myers, 44, says it doesn't explain why, when a Ukrainian translator was requested, the DWP refused to do a call-back when one became available.

"They claim the don't have these facilities which seem remarkable. Whilst it's great for them to push out an apology there has been no contact with Maria's mum," he said.

"We expect an apology to Maria's mum in Ukrainian so she can understand that they are sorry. They refuse to write to her in Ukrainian.

"The letters the DWP sends her are in English - knowing she doesn't speak the language."

Maria and her mum Tetiania

In a statement, the DWP said they are mindful of the trauma many Ukrainians arriving in the UK have faced.

The statement read: "Our language services supplier has increased linguist resource significantly to deal with an upturn in Ukrainian language requirements for DWP customers and claimants can also give consent for others, such as friends or family members, to speak to us on their behalf.

"It is not our policy to provide a Russian speaking linguist in response to a request for a Ukrainian linguist.

"We apologise for the misunderstanding in this case and the distress caused."

Maria said her mum is struggling, adding: "She has never had to deal with the British system before so she needs a lot of support and I think instances like this really don't help. It just leaves her traumatised for a long time".

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