Ukrainian refugee among first to be granted UK visa says she's 'one of the lucky ones'

  • ITV News Meridian's Tony Green spoke to Olha about her fight for a UK visa

A Kent university lecturer from Ukraine has welcomed her sister to the UK after she fled the invasion with her two young sons.

Dr Olena Nizalov, who teaches economics at the University of Kent in Canterbury, says her sister managed to flee the fighting.

Olha Smolyk says she is "one of the lucky ones" after being among the first to be granted a visa in the UK.

Olha decided to leave Ukraine after fighting reached her home city of Mykolayiv in the south of the country, witnessing burnt out tanks in the streets.

She headed for the border, travelling with her two sons who are aged six and eight.

Olha fled Ukraine with her two sons aged six and eight. Credit: Olha Smolyk

While fleeing, the sisters stayed in contact via texts and video calls.

It was a worrying time for Olena when her sister's phone battery ran out.

At the time Olena said: "Last thing I saw at night was, they are so heavy I don't think I can carry them, they are so tired, they are falling on the ground and she can't carry them. What if they freeze."

Thankfully, they made it out of the country and are now on British soil.

Dr Olena Nizalov pictured with her nephews. Credit: Dr Olena Nizalov

Olha's visa was granted as part of the Ukraine Family Scheme which allows applicants to join family members or extend their stay in the UK.

Canterbury City Council has pledged to do what it can to support Ukrainians living and working in the district after what it calls the "brutal Russian invasion of their country".

Leader of Canterbury City Council, Cllr Ben Fitter-Harding, said: "Having watched the images on the television and listened to the harrowing stories and witness testimonies of those directly affected by the war in Ukraine, you cannot fail to be moved by the plight of its people and inspired by their courage.

"We have no doubt Ukrainians living in our district will be desperately worried about the safety of their friends, family and loved ones.

Around 2 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began. Credit: PA

"While Ukrainians focus on the fate of their country and the real human cost of this war, I am proud to say thousands of our residents have been asking what they can do to help despite being 1,500 miles away. I would expect nothing less."

He added: "With that in mind, this council stands ready once again to do what it can to offer practical support to Ukrainian citizens already here and those that might arrive in the coming weeks and months.

"I have absolutely no doubt the district’s reputation for compassion, caring and an overwhelming desire to help those in desperate need, no questions asked, will shine through once again and I thank everyone for that from the bottom of my heart."

Civilians flee Irpin in Ukraine. Credit: AP

Many Ukrainians have travelled more than 1,000 miles to escape the shelling only to be blocked at the final hurdle, the Calais border, because of delays in processing visa applications.

On Wednesday, March 9, Grant Shapps said 760 visas have been granted for Ukrainians to come to the UK.

Kent MP Sir Roger Gale has hit out at the Home Office for delays which he says are "unacceptable" and is calling for a visa waiver scheme to be started.

A Government spokesperson said: "Last week we announced a new sponsorship route which will allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored to come to the UK.

"This is alongside our Ukraine Family Scheme, which has already seen thousands of people apply, as well as changes to visas so that people can stay in the UK safely.

"The routes we have put in place follow extensive engagement with Ukrainian partners.

"This is a rapidly moving and complex picture and as the situation develops we will continue to keep our support under constant review."