A UKRAINIAN woman who is taking refuge in Fermanagh, after her home in Mariupol was destroyed by a Russian missile, has been facing a bureaucratic nightmare trying to get support since she arrived here.
Sixty-five-year-old Ohla fled the besieged city at the end of March, taking refuge first in Kyiv, before fleeing again to the Polish border when the capital was bombed, ending up in the Czech Republic.
Unable to stay in the country, she applied for a UK visa, and was eventually sponsored by local man Keith Simmons, who had signed up for the Homes for Ukraine scheme after deciding he had room to host a refugee at his home in Ballinamallard.
Having arrived six weeks ago, he said both Ohla and himself have since had to negotiate a “very fragmented” system, with Keith stating he “found the whole process of getting help from the right people totally difficult, daunting and very dated and with little concern as to the wellbeing of the refugee.”
This has included applying for Universal Credit. While Ohla – who arrived penniless and with little more than the clothes on her back – has now been accepted for the benefit, she will only be receiving a payment from the day her application form was completed on May 20th, rather than when she arrived on May 1st.
That’s despite the fact both she and Keith had been trying to apply since she arrived but had been unable to complete the application due to the fragmented nature of the system. While he said the amount of money involved wasn’t much, Keith is trying to appeal the decision as Ohla is in desperate need of support.
“She arrived with one small suitcase and no money, shell shocked, lonely and frightened, and she needed help,” said Keith.
“I paid for her flight over and have provided her with a safe and secure home. She had only the clothes she was wearing and a few items in her case.
“She no longer has her home for her house in Mariupol as it was blown to pieces by the Russian army and left Ohla with next to nothing.”
Like other local hosts the Herald has spoken to, Keith said there is a serious lack of support services for the refugees arriving here, having to deal with various departments and organisations, and with the nearest refugee support centre located 74 miles away in Craigavon.
There is also no system in place for connecting Ukrainians now living locally, so she has had no contact with others who are now living in Fermanagh.
Overall, Keith said he felt that the powers-that-be “don’t care about Ukraine refugees and have made the whole entry system difficult and stressful both for the refugee and the host.”
“All am I doing is trying to help this lady in her real time of need, and the NI authorities continually put policy and procedures in the way, but instead of standing up and being counted they just bury their heads in the sand. It’s disgraceful,” he said.
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