Vizsla dog owner helped flee Ukraine but is still waiting for a UK visa
A UKRAINIAN refugee and her dog – who have found refuge in Wales through a Facebook group for owners of a rare breed – are still awaiting permission to enter the UK.
Olga Yakovleva has already been waiting for more than two weeks for the result of her visa application despite being sponsored by a Welsh couple.
The 57-year-old woman’s escape from Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine, with her dog Colet had been orchestrated by an international Facebook page for owners of the Vizsla breed in March when the city was attacked by the invading Russian forces.
Olga is now safe in Budapest for now but does not know when she will be able to accept the offer of family accommodation in Caernarfon. She said: ‘It’s frustrating, the silence, not knowing what’s going on. Is everything ok with my application?
“On March 22, I submitted my application and I haven’t heard from anyone since. I wait, I wait and I am silent.
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In March, Olga found herself stranded in her basement on the front line with Russian planes bombing her town with only her dog Colet for company.
“All these bombs and planes were flying over my roof. This bombardment was for 23 hours a day. The second day the electricity went down and the Wifi went down.
“The only thing I had was mobile data which was very poor. The vibrations from the explosions broke my fridge and my lamp.
For 11 days, Olga was left in her basement without food or water for herself or the dog. The only source of water was an old well but the water was not drinkable and despite filtering it through a cloth, to get rid of some of the silt, she and Colet were sick.
With intermittent mobile data, Olga posted information about her situation in a Facebook group for Vizsla dog owners that has more than 43,000 members.
Almost immediately, she received private messages from individuals in the group offering help and support.
Together, six band members created a plan to bring Olga and Colet to Poland. Together with Vizlamentes UK, a Vizsla breed rescue charity, the group of dog owners created a series of safe homes which enabled the couple to travel to Budapest.
On March 7, a friend took Olga to the station and she boarded a train for Poland with only her dog and a backpack with documents, food and a blanket for the couple.
She said, “Everything was like a miracle. I didn’t plan any of these steps, people in this Facebook group coordinated my moves for me.
Together with Colet, Olga traveled for 23 hours standing on a crowded train without heat, water or electricity.
Through Vizsla’s network of owners, she and the dog traveled to Budapest where an American family gave her a one-bedroom apartment to stay for as long as it takes to get a UK visa.
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Olga is one of the luckiest, with a place to stay for as long as she needs, while thousands of others have been unable to find long-term accommodation and are displaced from hotel to hotel.
The dog group also arranged for Olga’s daughter to fly out of Dubai to be with her mother for a while, although she had to return soon after due to her job. Olga did not want to live in Dubai after previous experiences there.
Once she has her visa, she will travel to Wales to stay with Debbie Green, her husband Tony Green and their two Vizsla dogs Harry and Wynter at their farmhouse in Caernarfon.
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Debbie said: “Every time we’ve kind of approached the weekend where we think well, it could be the weekend. She can get on the convoy and come here. There is still no visa.
“For the first two weeks, we just thought these things take time. We just have to be patient.
“But over time, I’ve seen Olga’s confidence deteriorate and she feels like she’s done something wrong.
“Quite honestly, if I had to sum it up in one word, it would be a nightmare. I don’t think it’s really necessary.
Each refugee sponsor from Ukraine has, according to Debbie, experienced the same delay with no one in support groups as the couple managed to physically welcome their friends through their doors.
This means Ukrainian refugees have families waiting to take them in, but no way to enter the country.
Debbie said the delays are preventing people from moving on with their lives: “We’ve actually heard of people who have given up because they applied with their family three weeks ago, the families are in Ukraine trying Get out. And they say, you know, we can’t wait.
“The sponsors are now also giving up because they say: we registered, we found a family, we spent days doing the files, they left because they couldn’t wait any longer. They just think they can’t put up with that stress anymore.
“It doesn’t work for anyone, not for us or for the people we’re trying to help. It’s emotionally draining.”
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She added: “These refugees are already exhausted. They are traumatized. And what we see now is that they have escaped but are stuck waiting.
“We can definitely see symptoms of post-traumatic stress, they need to be in an environment where they can feel safe, they can feel settled, they can access professional help for what they are confronted.”
Olga said: “I am absolutely aware that the UK government is overwhelmed with many application forms. It’s understandable, but at the same time, I think it’s a matter of urgency.
On Friday April 8, Olga received an email stating that the UK government is sorry for the delay and that the visa could take up to three weeks. He also said both sponsors should have uploaded their passports.
Debbie said: ‘The original application form didn’t say that so we just uploaded mine and Olga’s. She went to the app portal last night to try to download Tony’s, but it didn’t allow her to make any changes.
“We are now stuck without the necessary documentation and no way to send it. We can’t get any help from the helpline, they have no information about it,” Debbie said: “It’s so confusing and everyone is being told different things.
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The Welsh family have been in contact with their MP Hywel Williams who was told Olga Yakovleva was on the system but could not give further information.
Debbie said: “It’s a clear failure on the part of the UK government and it’s just not good enough.”
Husband Tony said: ‘Our own government, which should be helping us, through its bureaucracy and gross inefficiency, seems to be working against us at every step.
“We get emails saying ‘we have one of the fastest and biggest visa schemes in UK history’ and yet after three weeks we have no response, no update, no visa and no idea what we can do about it or where we can go for concrete information.
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