British man with family in Ukraine says UK refugee response is ‘utterly ridiculous’

Michael Felton said he is ‘lost for words’ over his fight to get his elderly mother-in-law to safety in the UK.

09 March 2022

A British man struggling to get his elderly mother-in-law out of Ukraine has said he is “lost for words” at the “utterly ridiculous” response from the UK Government.

Michael Felton, 61, has been attempting to get his children’s 83-year-old grandmother to safety in the UK after her home came under fire from Russian air strikes.

Nadia, known as Babulya, pictured with her granddaughters Kristina and Michelle.
Michael Felton’s mother-in-law Nadia, known as Babulya by her family, pictured with her granddaughters Kristina and Michelle (Michael Felton/PA)

“My wife said to me she doesn’t want her mother, who was born during the Second World War, to die in another war… it’s hard to know what to say,” Mr Felton told the PA news agency.

“I am truly lost for words at how to describe the help our government is giving.

“By comparison other countries across Europe are accepting people with free transport, free food, free clothing, free accommodation… actually helping these refugees.”

Mr Felton said it has taken “some coercion” from his wife to convince her mother Nadia, known as Babulya to her family, to leave her home in Kharkiv, north-east Ukraine.

The 83-year-old is of Russian descent, but sees herself as “wholly Ukrainian” after migrating to the country with her family when she was young.

“She’s lived through this (war) for the best part of a fortnight… She wanted to just stay, and if necessary, die there in her home,” he said.

“It’s tough for her, she’s pretty frail and she lives alone… save for a miniature Yorkie who’s probably equally, if not older than she is.

“She wears hearing aids, so come night-time when the power is cut off and she has no heating, she just takes them out and goes to sleep.

“She’s fortunate in that she doesn’t have to hear the booms and bangs (from the bombs) during the night.”

Mr Felton, who lives in Cheshire, said he is the only family member she has “this side of the planet” as his wife and youngest daughter live in Thailand.

His wife, who he has been married to for 15 years, has spent “most of her time in tears” and considered travelling back to Ukraine to help her mother to safety.

“She just does not want to lose her mother…but I had to tell her it would be a stupid idea to put herself under the same element of danger,” he said.

“Then we would have two family members in a war zone and I’d be going in next to rescue them… If I could find them alive that is.”

After contacting the UK Home Office for advice on what to do, Mr Felton said the response has been “utterly ridiculous”.

“I’ve tried being in touch with the emergency helpline but my mother-in-law doesn’t classify as a family member,” he said.

“The only thing I can think of doing is trying to bring her across on a ferry myself. Let them arrest me, I just don’t care, because I’ve got no option.

“It’s easy for (Home Secretary) Priti Patel to say what good work she’s doing but it amounts to nothing.

“I’m not the only one who’s in a similar situation…I would love the opportunity for her to tell me to my face how she is helping.”

A Government spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Last week we announced a new sponsorship route which will allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored to come to the UK.

“This is alongside our Ukraine Family Scheme, which has already seen thousands of people apply, as well as changes to visas so that people can stay in the UK safely.

“The routes we have put in place follow extensive engagement with Ukrainian partners.

“This is a rapidly moving and complex picture and as the situation develops we will continue to keep our support under constant review.”

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