A disabled woman has slammed civil servants for so far failing to allow a 14-year-old Ukrainian boy to stay in her Grand Designs style home with his former Paralympian mother.
Jo Wright, 60, who is a full time wheelchair user lives in an ultra-modern five bedroom house which has been described as the UK’s smartest wheelchair-accessible home in Hampshire.
She contacted a Ukrainian disability charity after Russia’s invasion, saying that she was able to offer rooms in her award-winning home to any refugee with mobility issues.
The charity put her in touch with former winter and summer Paralympian competitor Svitlana Trifonova who was looking for a sponsor to give her shelter in the UK.
Mrs Wright applied on March 23 for visas for Svitlana who is a TV presenter and commentator on para sports in Ukraine, and her 18-year-old carer son Mykyta.
The original plan was for Svitlana’s other son Tymofii Gontovyi, 14, to stay behind with his father Pavlo at his home on the outskirts of Kyiv.
But as the Russian bombardment of the area continued, the family changed their plans and decided that Tymofii should try and get to the UK as well.
Mrs Wright then put in a separate application for a visa for the teenager on March 27, making it clear that he would be travelling over with his mother and brother.
But while Svitlana and Mykyta had their visas granted on April 2 and April 5 respectively, Tymofii is still waiting for his to be processed.
Disabled Jo Wright pictured in her wheelchair with husband David behind her, and from left, her mother Liz, daughter Lizzie and son Tim
Disabled former Paralympic competitor Svitlana Trifonova pictured with her two sons. Svitlana and her sons remain stranded in a hotel in Poprad, Slovakia, after fleeing from their home in Kyiv
Mrs Wright’s house (pictured) has been described as the UK’s smartest wheelchair-accessible home
The futuristic box-shaped house complete with a lift, a gym and swimming pool was completed in October 2020
The five-bedroom house featured on the front cover of the Grand Designs magazine last December
Mrs Wright has slammed the Home Office over delays in processing visas for Ukrainian refugees. Pictured: Home Secretary Priti Patel
Mrs Wright, a retired BT sales director, has been told that ‘checks are ongoing’ in relation to the teenager even though his application went in more than four-weeks-ago.
The delay has meant that the Svitlana and her sons remain stranded in a hotel in Poprad, Slovakia, after fleeing from their home in Kyiv.
Mrs Wright, who chairs a national disability charity Back Up Trust which helps people with spinal injuries lead a full life, said: ‘The delay is just incomprehensible.
‘How many checks does the Home Office need to carry out on a 14-year-old boy? They might be able to go over his school records and find his trigonometry results, but what else do they need to find out?
‘It is just nonsense and I have no way of actually finding out what the problem is.
‘The fact that they have left their home, taking the word of a stranger who wants to put them up in another country, just shows how desperate they are.
‘I will do whatever it takes to get them out of there and get them here. They are completely traumatised.
‘What is inexcusable is that the Home Office is not really acknowledging that there is a serious problem, and are claiming that things are being sorted out.
‘There seems to be an issue with people who applied early on for visas. There are family groups where everyone is getting a visa apart from either a parent or a younger child.
‘There are thousands of people on Facebook groups who are pulling their hair out waiting to come over and faced with ridiculous delays
‘Cynics are saying that this is really the Government trying to control the number of people entering the UK.
Mrs Wright and her son Tim pose outside the Houses of of Parliament during a Vigil for Visas protest on Monday
Disabled former paralympic competitor Svitlana Trifonova from Ukraine pictured with her sons Mykyta, 18, and Tymofii, 14
Disable Paralympian Svitlana being carried upstairs by son Mykyta at their temporary accommodation
‘It is just appalling and the Home Office needs to admit it, and tell people whether they have to reapply.
‘I am just so embarrassed about the situation. It is insensitive and it reflects terribly badly on the competence of the British Government and the goodwill of the British people.
‘People desperately want to reach out and help Ukrainians who we can see are in desperate need, but there are obstacles in the way.’
Mother-of-three Mrs Wright became disabled in 2011 after suffering a rare infection in her spinal column which left her spending seven months in hospital.
When she emerged from hospital, she had to use a wheelchair and ended up struggling to get around her Edwardian turreted house in Hampshire.
She and her husband David, 62, got round the problem by selling their home, retaining part of their garden and building a new home, designed for ease of wheelchair access.
The futuristic box-shaped house complete with a lift, a gym and swimming pool was completed in October 2020 and featured on the front cover of Grand Designs magazine last December.
She said: ‘Our house is beautiful and we are immensely proud of it. Now we just want to share it with someone deserving.
‘It is designed to be a lovely home suitable to meet the needs of everyone including a wheelchair user.’
Mrs Wright is now offering Svitlana and her sons the use of an en-suite bedroom and a self-contained flat which is designed to be used by a full time carer if she eventually needs one.
She believes the process of being approved as a sponsor for refugees should in reality have been speeded up due to her and her husband having already had advanced DBS checks due to their work for her charity.
Ukrainian refugees attend a traditional Easter breakfast on Easter Sunday at the Humanitarian Aid Center in Nadarzyn, near Warsaw, Poland, on Sunday
She said that Svitlana and her sons had originally left Kyiv and moved to a rented apartment in Uzhorod in western Ukraine.
The property was unsuitable for her as her sons had to carry her up three flights of stairs to get her in and out, so Mrs Wright booked them into a hotel in Poprad last week.
She also bought tickets for them to get on a Wizz Air flight from Poprad to Luton on Monday this week after the Home Office had wrongly assured her that Tymofii’s visa was about to be granted.
But she had to cancel the flight booking last Sunday after it became clear that the visa was not going arrive in time.
She has now re-booked the flights for next Monday, although ‘she has no confidence that the visa will be sorted out by then’.
Staff working for her local Basingstoke MP Maria Miller have repeatedly talked to the Home Office to try and speed things up, but have been unable to solve the impasse.
The delay is especially upsetting for former IBM executive Mrs Wright as she worked for the Home Office for two years from 2001 when she was director general of IT for criminal justice.
She added: ‘I would have been closely vetted before getting that post, so I am pretty sure that I am not the problem.’
A Government spokesperson said: ‘Thanks to the generosity of the public who have offered their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the war and through the Ukraine Family Scheme, more than 71,800 visas have been granted with 21,600 Ukrainians arriving safely in the UK.
‘The Home Office is now processing thousands of visas a day – this shows the changes made to streamline the service are working and we’ll continue to build on this success so we can speed up the process even further.’
Source: Daily Mail