Ukraine-Russia: Teenage musician left in limbo in German hostel after waiting two months for visa to live in Scotland

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Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 16-year-old Violet Harus had a promising career as a musician ahead of her, studying saxophone and piano at a prestigious music school in her home city of Kharkiv.

Now the teenager and her mother, Ludmila, whose home was destroyed in a missile attack at the beginning of the war, are living in limbo in a student hostel in Germany – and could soon be sent to a refugee camp in France – after waiting almost two months for a visa to live in Scotland.

The family had matched under the Homes for Ukraine scheme with Fife resident Alex Black, who had planned to open her home to them – and offer Ms Harus work in her family campervan rental business.

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However, despite applying for the scheme at the first possible opportunity in mid-March, the family has still not heard back from the Home Office and is living in temporary accommodation in a hostel in Germany after fleeing Ukraine ten weeks ago. Ms Harus’s husband remains in the war-torn country, where he works as an ambulance driver.

Ludmila Harus and her daughter Violet have been trying to apply for a visa to live in Scotland since March.Ludmila Harus and her daughter Violet have been trying to apply for a visa to live in Scotland since March.
Ludmila Harus and her daughter Violet have been trying to apply for a visa to live in Scotland since March.

The pair did not apply for residence in Germany, as they were expecting to travel to Scotland – and are only allowed to stay in the country for another two weeks. They have been told they will be moved to a refugee camp in France, run by the Red Cross, in a matter of days.

Ms Black has been told by local politicians they have looked into the case and the family's visa is "being considered", but is concerned the application has been mislaid. She has contacted refugees minister Neil Gray four times, but has not had a response.

Ms Black says: “Yesterday, I was talking about it to someone and I just found myself absolutely in floods of tears, because this is somebody else's lives, this is not a game. I'm just at my wit's end. I don't know what I can do. I speak to other people who have had their guests’ application approved in ten days.

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"Violet messages me every day and I feel horribly responsible. I feel like I've let them down, even though I know it's absolutely nothing to do with me. They could be settled somewhere else if we hadn't done this.”

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Having signed up for the hosting scheme on the day it opened, Ms Black has everything set up for her guests, including a school place for Violet and a job for her mother, who in Ukraine worked as a massage therapist. She has also set up a local networking group for Ukrainian arrivals near her home in Balmullo, close to St Andrews.

"The school keeps asking me ‘what’s happening, when are they coming?’,” she says.

“Violet has missed what could have been a term of school, where she could have met people her own age. Now, if they come, it will be exam time and she won’t have that chance for a while.

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“I set up the networking group ages ago thinking I was going to be the first one [in the area to host someone] and now I'm about the only person whose guests haven’t arrived. It just doesn’t make sense. If there's something wrong with the application, if we filled in something is wrong, then they should just tell us. They've been considering it now for nearly six weeks and to be honest, I think they’ve lost it.”

The Harus family is working hard to maintain some kind of normality since leaving Ukraine. They initially fled to Poland and were taken to a gym hall in northern Germany, before being moved to the hostel in Bavaria.

Ms Black says: "Violet's school has somehow managed to maintain some kind of online teaching, so she has managed to do that. She has carried her saxophone with her, as she goes to a specialist music academy in Kharkiv, and saxophone and piano are her instruments. She is obviously quite an accomplished young girl.”

Although Violet speaks some English, her mother does not – and Ms Black has arranged for a friend of hers, an English teacher living in France, to give her lessons on Zoom.

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She says: “Ludmila is doing classes over Zoom three times a week with my friend and they are really working. Last time I was in contact with them, Ludmila actually spoke to me in English, which was amazing.”

Ms Harus says she and her daughter are provided with food in the hostel.

She says: “I am learning English in my spare time, but we are living in a student hostel. We are not registered [in Germany] because we are waiting for a visa [for Scotland]. The term of stay in Europe from when we arrived on March 6 will soon finish, it's very stressful.”

Violet says she has been able to work with a local music school to use a practice room for her saxophone, which she finds therapeutic – but is eager to re-start her studies in Scotland as soon as possible.

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She says: “They provided a free classroom, where I play the saxophone. I also study online at my school in Kharkiv. I've liked music since childhood, so I want to connect my life with my creativity in the future. Now, with the help of music, I'm distracted from all the problems.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government continues to urge the Home Office to process visa applications speedily. We have long-standing concerns that the UK’s approach of a range of different visa schemes has led to complexity, bureaucracy and delay. That is why we have repeatedly called for the UK Government to waive all visa requirements, putting people, not processes, first.

“The Scottish Government is doing all it can to work within the UK Government’s sponsorship scheme to provide a fast and safe alternative to Ukrainians seeking sanctuary in Scotland and providing support when they do get permission to travel from the UK Government.”

The Home Office was contacted for comment.

Details of the case have emerged as UK Government figures show more than 50,000 refugees have arrived in the UK under the Ukraine visa schemes.

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Some 53,800 Ukrainian refugees had arrived under the family scheme and Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme as of Monday, the data shows.

Some 107,400 visas have been granted under both schemes, meaning just over half of those with visas granted have arrived.

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