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Family of Ukrainian refugees is split up with a mother separated from her 11-year-old son after the UK’s visa rules are changed without warning


  • Mother-of-two Olga Brandes-Shytikova was planning to bring her son to the UK 
  • Have you been affected by the closure of the Ukraine Family Scheme? Email elena.salvoni@mailonline.co.uk 

A Ukrainian refugee has spoken of her heartbreak at being separated from her 11-year-old son after the UK government changed visa rules without warning this week, leaving him stranded in the war-torn country.

Mother-of-two Olga Brandes-Shytikova, 42, had been planning to bring her son Myktyka to live with her and her teenage daughter in the UK.

That was until the Home Office suddenly closed the Ukraine Family Scheme on Monday afternoon, meaning that refugees are now not eligible to act as sponsors for family members wanting to flee the conflict with Russia.

Ms Brandes-Shytikova said she had wanted to get a job and her own home before bringing Myktyka over, and was going to apply this week before the rule change came in.

The heartbroken mother now says that her little boy ‘thinks we betrayed him’ and that he has vowed to make the journey to the UK border himself despite his young age and having no documents.

After coming to the UK with her daughter Yevheniia, 17, last year, Olga Brandes-Shytikova found a temporary home in Croydon, south London

After coming to the UK with her daughter Yevheniia, 17, last year, Olga Brandes-Shytikova found a temporary home in Croydon, south London

File image shows a residential building, damaged as a result of a missile attack in Kyiv on February 7, 2024

File image shows a residential building, damaged as a result of a missile attack in Kyiv on February 7, 2024

‘Talking about it makes me cry,’ she told The Times. ‘There were requirements — I needed to earn more money and I needed a bigger home for my son to live with us. I did all these things.

‘I feel that I did everything the government wanted me to do. I found a job and I found a new place to live so that my son would have his own room. And now they have changed the rules, we did not expect this.’

After coming to the UK with her daughter Yevheniia, 17, last year, Ms Brandes-Shytikova found a temporary home in Croydon, south London.

She got a full-time job at Lidl and her daughter enrolled at a local college to study art and began volunteering at a food bank.

They had hoped to be reunited with Myktyka, who had been living with his father who was called up to fight.

The 11-year-old now lives with his 69-year-old grandmother in the western city of Chernivisti, and his mother says he is ‘getting sick’ because of the distressing situation. 

Under the Ukraine Family Scheme, Ms Brandes-Shytikova would have been able to act as a sponsor, giving him permission to the UK.

But the Home Office changed the eligibility criteria for sponsors, meaning only British and Irish citizens or foreign nationals with settled status in the UK can now act as sponsors as of 3pm Monday.

In January, Rishi Sunak vowed to back Ukraine for 'as long as it takes' as he visited Kyiv and committed £2.5billion of military support in the coming year

In January, Rishi Sunak vowed to back Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’ as he visited Kyiv and committed £2.5billion of military support in the coming year

Ukrainian servicemen fire with a tank as they check it after a maintenance not far from Bakhmut in the Donetsk region on February 5, 2024

Ukrainian servicemen fire with a tank as they check it after a maintenance not far from Bakhmut in the Donetsk region on February 5, 2024

It also stipulates that potential sponsors must hold at least six months’ permission to stay in the UK to qualify.

Luke Piper of the Work Rights Centre, which is helping Ms Brandes-Shytikova, said that it is ‘hard to reconcile’ the changes with ‘the messages of solidarity the UK government repeatedly sends.’

The government has repeatedly vowed to continue its support for Ukraine as the war with Vladimir Putin’s forces reaches the two-year mark this week.

Last month, Rishi Sunak vowed to back Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’ as he visited Kyiv and committed £2.5billion of military support in the coming year. 

The Home Office has been contacted for comment. 



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