'There's very little we can do' - man tells of Homes for Ukraine despair

Richard and Audrey Leyland of Ely

Richard Leyland and wife Audrey applied for the Homes for Ukraine scheme and were planning to host three Ukrainian women at their home in Ely. - Credit: Richard Leyland

Richard Leyland, his wife and two children were keen to help Ukrainians fleeing the war by offering a place to stay for three women they met online. 

“We have an annexe in our garden that was available,” said Richard. 

“We put in new beds, a sofa and got inspected within a week since applying for visas.” 

Mr Leyland, of Ely, was told that it would take around two weeks to receive visas for each of the women whom they had met through a Facebook group.  

And after receiving the green light from East Cambridgeshire District Council (ECDC), they were ready to welcome their new guests. 

Room where Ukrainian refugees could stay in Ely

Inside the accommodation that the three women from Ukraine were due to stay in. - Credit: Richard Leyland

“ECDC gave us the all-clear and 31 days after we applied for visas, two have been approved,” said Richard. 

Mr Leyland and his wife applied to sponsor three Ukrainians under the Homes for Ukraine scheme on March 28. 

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After finding one of the Ukrainian women, which we will call Anna, did not have a passport she was required to attend an appointment to give her biometric information in order to apply for a visa. 

But despite being told in person that Anna attended, Richard received an email on April 13 saying she did not show up. 

“The Home Office said it was ‘probably an admin error’,” said Mr Leyland. 

“We had to resubmit the identification documents a week later on TLS, a third-party system used to collect ID docs after they were deleted by the Home Office.” 

Mr Leyland, who believes there is “very little we can do”, got in touch with his local MP Lucy Frazer in an attempt for answers on whether Anna’s visa application has been approved. 

Richard Leyland's annexe in Ely

Richard Leyland was planning to welcome the three Ukrainian women they sponsored through the Homes for Ukraine scheme to his home in Ely. - Credit: Richard Leyland

The Home Office said all three applications were in the final stages of being approved, but a day later emailed Mr Leyland that Anna’s application was being “prepared for consideration”. 

“I cannot speak to anyone who can give me reassuring words that our application is progressing,” said Richard. 

“When you find emails telling you a woman in crisis is not attending a biometrics appointment when she did, it’s no longer about a delay; it’s cruelty.” 

Some good news was to come for Mr Leyland, though. 

On April 20, the first visa had been issued and on the same day, Ms Frazer’s office confirmed a second visa was also issued despite no confirmation from the Home Office. 

Anna’s visa was still in doubt, but as Richard waited for all visas to be issued, one of the women informed him of their current living situation. 

“The woman told me she was being exploited in a two-bed apartment with eight people in the country they were staying,” he said.  

“They were being squeezed for extra money to fund electricity, water and their rental agreement ran out five days before (Richard was told of exploitation).” 

Mr Leyland, who has notified Ms Frazer and the Home Office of the trio’s circumstances, believes the women have now found refuge in another European country. 

But Richard fears that their safety may still not be guaranteed. 

“The women have gone to stay in a city and have taken a gamble that they hope will benefit them and hopefully safe for them,” he said. 

“But to me, they sound like they are losing hope. 

“The government made a promise where you go through the process (Homes for Ukraine scheme) and if you’re legit, we will have you.  

“They have not lived up to the promise they made; it’s a disaster.” 

Mr Leyland has since not received a response from either Ms Frazer’s office or the Home Office in whether all visa applications have been issued. 

The women, who never lived anywhere else other than Ukraine before the war, wanted to move to the UK after spending a summer picking vegetables here. 

And despite Richard’s efforts to provide a safe place to stay, he feels they are now looking into other options. 

“We (the UK) have raised the hopes of vulnerable people and kept them hanging on; that’s cruel,” he added. 

“I feel sorry for these ladies and ashamed this is the best our government can do.” 

We have contacted Ms Frazer’s office for comment.