Ripon couple's fight to rescue parents from Russian bombs in Ukraine is finally won

A Ripon couple have spoken of their frustration at the amount of time it took to get permission to rescue their elderly relatives from the war zone in Ukraine and bring them to the safety of the UK.

By Graham Chalmers
Thursday, 14th April 2022, 3:32 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th April 2022, 3:48 pm

After falling in love with each other while students in London 20 years ago, Sergo Nunushyan and Ganna Berezivska settled in Yorkshire in 2o15, living firstly in Harrogate, then buying a home in Ripon last year.

But, as the bombs started falling in late February after the Russian invasion, the couple’s attentions turned back to Ukraine and the plight of Ganna’s parents.

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Ripon's Ganna Berezivska, right, pictured with her parents, mum Halina Valova and dad Vasyliy Valovayi, and her son Misha Berezivskayi. (Picture: Gerard Binks)

The hometown of Ganna’s father Vasyl Valovyi, 67, and mother Halyna Valiva, 68, is Bila Tserkva, the largest city in the region of Kyiv Oblast, located just 50 miles from the Ukrainian capital with a population of more than 200,000 people.

By March 5, Sergo, owner of an e-commerce business, and Ganna, an accountant, were watching TV with their two children aged ten and 14 when reports came on of Russian rocket attacks on residential areas of the city where Ganna’s parents lived.

Doctors in one of the region’s hospitals were pictured preparing a bomb shelter to protect and treat casualties.

The married couple’s concern was heightened by the alarming condition of Ganna’s dad who has also been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Ripon couple Ganna Berezivska and Sergo Nunushyan and Ganna Berezivska.

But bringing their loved ones to safety proved to be a far from straightforward process, as Sergo told the Harrogate Advertiser.

“We applied in March for Ganna’s parents to come and stay with us through the Family Scheme Visa with Ganna’s poor parents still under Russian bombs risking their lives every day, hiding in their bathroom when the air sirens went off,” said Sergo.

“They could also hear explosions coming from Kviv, that’s how bad it was.

"We were very worried about their safety and about the health of Ganna’s dad.

"The Government promised it would take up to 72 hours for visas to come through but that wasn’t the case.

“The whole situation was so frustrating. I don’t think the Home Office was ready to deal with applications quickly at all.”

It wasn’t the first time the Ripon couple had been at the sharp end of the Home Office’s bureaucracy.

Two years earlier they had applied unsuccessfully for Standard Visitor visas for Ganna’s parents which would have allowed them to stay for a maximum of six months.

Sergo said: “The Home office refused our application saying our parents are not genuine visitors. How can they not be genuine visitors when their family lives in this country?

“We are a family of four, fully settled in UK, paying our taxes with children who are more British than Ukrainian.”

In desperation, Sergo and Ganna turned to Ripon MP Julian Smith for help.

“We knew what it was like but we were still surprised how hard it was to get permission to get Ganna’s parents out of Ukraine. So we got in touch with Julian Smith, who was

very helpful.”

Sergo and Ganna’s story is far from the only one in Yorkshire and further afield.

Many others have also struggled with Britain’s handling of the refugee crisis triggered by Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine. But at least there has been a happier ending for this Ripon couple than many others.

After nearly three weeks, Sergo and Ganna received the news they had been fervently hoping for - their visa applications had been processed and granted allowing Ganna’s parents to come to the UK and join them in Ripon. With her dad’s cancer a problem still not solved, Ganna says she is thankful Britain has opened its doors to her parents.

“My dad is to be seen by Harrogate Hospital for a full body scan,” said Ganna. “He didn’t realise he had cancer but he had it for years and needs an urgent operation on his lung.

“But it is so good to finally have him and my mum here with us in safety. We are very grateful to the UK for allowing us to bring them here.”

Britain's refugee schemes for Ukraine: The gap between talk and action.

Dogged by problems and delays, the two schemes designed to provide sanctuary for refugees from Ukraine continue to be criticised.

After Alex Fraser, British Red Cross director of refugee support, urged the Government to “temporarily lift visa requirements”, Home Secretary Priti Patel apologised for the time it was taking for Ukrainian refugees to arrive in the UK.

The latest official Government figures updated on April 8 illustrate the sizable gap between rhetoric and reality.

Under the popular Homes for Ukraine scheme where UK families can offer to host refugees in their homes, 12,500 visas have been issued to Ukrainians so far - with only 1,200 of that number arriving in the UK. In North Yorkshire, 147 visas have been approved, 38 of these in Harrogate.

Under the Family Visa Scheme tailored for Ukrainians with a family member in the UK, 28,500 visas have been issued with 10,800 actually arriving in the UK.

After receiving 79,800 visa applications in total across both schemes, 12,000 refugees have so far found shelter in the UK.