Ukraine: ‘My mum, 91, who fought the Nazis is still waiting for a visa’

'She is really fragile and I’m really concerned for her'

Friday, 18th March — By Isabelle Stanley

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Zoya and Yuri Poluneeva

A 91-YEAR-OLD Second World War survivor fled Ukraine three weeks ago – but is still waiting for a visa to join her family in Primrose Hill.

When war broke out in Ukraine, Zoya Poluneeva was living in a high-rise in Kyiv, with her disabled daughter. They were looked after by carers and friends, but when fighting grew near, their support fled to look after their own families and they were left alone.

Ms Poluneeva’s son, Yuri Poluneeva, who is a British citizen and lives in Primrose Hill with his wife and children, said: “We made an emergency decision to evacuate them. We relied on volunteers to move them across Ukraine and they took my mum and sister in a car to the border in Romania. The trip was extremely difficult, particularly because they’re not in the best state.”

He added: “They made it to the Romanian border in five days, the crossing was a story of its own – it was a line of thousands of cars lasting for 36 hours. They needed emergency assistance so were taken across the border by an ambulance. Then I met them in Bucharest.”

For the past two weeks, Mr Poluneeva has been staying in a hotel with his elderly mother, desperately waiting for a visa that will allow her to join the family in Camden. His mother broke her rib fleeing from Ukraine and requires urgent medical attention.

She had applied for a visa before the war broke out, but the Home Office never approved it and now she’s had to apply again under the new scheme. Mr Poluneeva said: “The Home Office was completely unprepared for the situation, the contingency plans for situations like this are not up to standard.”

Ms Poluneeva survived the Second World War and her son said: “When she was 12, and they were occupied by the Nazis, there was a guerilla resistance and she helped the partisans by delivering explosives under her clothes – she is an amazing hard lady. She reminds me of Margaret Thatcher, she is an Iron Lady.”

But he added: “She is 91, she is really fragile and I’m really concerned for her. If we have to wait another week, I don’t know what we’ll do – I will go on hunger strike with my mother.”

While he waits, Mr Poluneeva is planning ways to help other Ukrainian refugees, he said: “Camden is a pioneer for helping refugees, the community has been amazing, but we need to make it more efficient.”

He said that new arrivals must be given immediate physical and psychological help and access to schools. He also wants to coordinate a massive donation drive as his other sister – a surgeon – remains in Kyiv.

He said: “She is operating non-stop in Kyiv, but they don’t have any medicines, she has to run around looking for them – that’s something we can help with, we can send medicines.”

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