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A Ukrainian woman has been joyfully reunited with two of her children after her husband rescued them from a war zone, where they had been sheltering in a cellar.

Tetiana Hil, 36, said it was the worst day of her life when she had to leave her children Maksym, 17, and Alina, 10, in Ukraine so she could work in the UK to pay for the lifesaving heart surgery Maksym needed. He had had heart problems from birth and it was his third surgery.

Her relationship with the children’s biological father had broken down and the couple had divorced. While working in the UK she met and then married Adil Arslan, 43, a British citizen, and the couple tried to bring Maksym and Alina to the UK to join the couple’s three-year-old daughter, Stefani.

The children were cared for in Ukraine by Hil’s parents, Mykhailo Kulchytski and Stefaniia Kulchytska, in the village of Teklivka, about 25 miles (40km) from Ternopil in western Ukraine.

But the Home Office refused permission for the children to come over. Officials wrote a letter to Alina, who does not speak English, on 1 November last year, saying: “To demonstrate that you are related to your sponsor (mother) as claimed you have submitted your birth certificate. Please provide additional evidence to show that you are related to your sponsor as claimed.”

She was also asked to send officials a description of what involvement her biological father had with her life. The family say there has been no contact since 2016.

After the Home Office’s refusal, an appeal was lodged by the family’s solicitors, which was due to be heard on 22 March.

In the refusal letter, government officials wrote that Hil had not demonstrated satisfactorily that she had sole responsibility for her children, and that there were no “exceptional circumstances in the appellants’ cases that would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences for refusing the applications”.

Despite the Home Office’s refusal to grant the children’s visa, Arslan said he was determined to rescue the children as soon as Russia invaded Ukraine.

“Tetiana was crying day and night about the danger the children were in in Ukraine. She couldn’t go herself as she has to look after three-year-old Stefani so I said I would go and get them,” he said.

After a 20-hour drive he arrived at Poland’s border with Ukraine and collected everyone. He took the family to the visa processing centre in Brussels and after a few days officials agreed to overturn the visa application refusal for the two children. Arslan drove back and forth between Calais and Brussels to complete the process , and finally was able to reunite the two children with their mother in the early hours of Friday morning.

But the children’s grandparents’ visa had not come through. That morning, after snatching a few hours sleep in the UK, Arslan drove back to Brussels to collect his in-laws after the visas were finally issued. He said his marathon journey of about 3,000 miles (4,800km) in five days was worth it “to see the smiles on everyone’s faces”.

“We are happy, happy, happy now,” said Hil, who moved to the UK in 2018. “At last our family can be together and safe from this terrible war in my country. The children say the sky is different here from the sky in Ukraine because there are no bombs falling out of it.

“I am so upset that the Home Office did not allow my children to come and join us before the war started. We did everything right with the application and sent a lot of documents. If they had granted permission when we applied for it my children could have avoided the war and would not have had to witness the shelling and the sirens.

“They spent a lot of the time after the war started hiding in the cellar with my parents where we store the potatoes and carrots we grow. There is not much air down there but the children were frightened to go outside.”

A government spokesperson said they would not comment on the case, but said: “We are standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainians which is why we’ve made it easier for those with Ukrainian passports to come here.”

Source: This post first appeared on The Guardian

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