14 March 2022

Britons urged to open their doors to Ukrainians as fighting continues

14 March 2022

British householders were urged to throw open their doors to Ukrainian refugees as the civilian death toll continued to rise in the conflict.

The UK Government set out details of a sponsorship scheme allowing individuals and organisations to offer a home to refugees fleeing the fighting amid fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and Nato.

Communities Secretary Michael Gove announced the “Homes for Ukraine” scheme as the Government scrambled to make it easier for people to come to the UK following widespread criticism of its response so far.

Almost three million people have fled Ukraine since Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian invasion and civilians continued to find themselves caught up in the fighting on Monday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Latvian counterpart Arturs Krisjanis Karins agreed during bilateral discussions in Downing Street that Mr Putin had made a “terrible and unforgivable mistake” in attacking Ukraine.

A No 10 spokeswoman said the pair called for the Kremlin’s “indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians” to cease.

It came after a Russian airstrike in central Kyiv killed one person and wounded six others, Ukrainian officials said, while two people were killed in the northern Obolonskyi district of the capital when artillery fire hit an apartment building.

There have been 1,663 civilian casualties since the invasion, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said, citing United Nations figures – although the true statistic may be far higher –  with “indiscriminate Russian shelling and air attacks… causing widespread destruction”.

The UN’s refugee agency believes more than 2.8 million people have left Ukraine in search of safety.

The Russians claimed 20 civilians were killed in Donetsk by a ballistic missile launched by the Ukrainian forces.

Ukrainian and Russian officials held further peace talks by video link and discussions are set to continue on Tuesday.

In the Commons, Mr Gove said the Ukrainian people were “the victims of savage, indiscriminate, unprovoked aggression” and “their courage under fire and their determination to resist inspires our total admiration”.

Previously only Ukrainians with family members already settled in the UK could come.

But under the new scheme, sponsors can provide a route for Ukrainians without family ties to come to the UK.

Mr Gove said “in recognition of their generosity” a tax-free monthly payment of £350 will be provided to people for each family they look after.

Sponsors can be of any nationality as long as they have permission to be in the UK for at least six months.

A new website will allow people to record their interest ahead of phase one of the scheme opening for applications for Friday.

The potential for the conflict in Ukraine to trigger a wider clash between Russia and Nato was underlined over the weekend with a strike close to the border with Poland.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky warned it was “only a matter of time” before the alliance was struck following a Russian attack on a base less than 15 miles from the border with Nato member Poland.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he believed a direct attack on a Nato member was still “very unlikely”, but warned it would trigger a response from the alliance, which has a policy of mutual defence.

Mr Javid told BBC’s Today programme: “We’ve made it very clear to the Russians even before the start of this conflict.

Screengrab from the UK Government website showing the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme (UK Government/PA) (PA Media)

“Even if a single Russian toecap steps into Nato territory, then it will be considered an act of war.”

The attack on the Yavoriv base, which has previously been used by Nato to train Ukrainian soldiers, was one of the western-most targets struck by Russia during the invasion.

Mr Zelensky, who spoke to Mr Johnson on Sunday, used the attack near the Polish frontier to renew his call for Nato allies to “close” the skies above Ukraine.

Downing Street said the strike so close to a Nato member is “deeply concerning” and that the UK is seeking to build the “broadest possible coalition” against the Russian aggression.

“These strikes are deeply concerning,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said. “We want everyone in the international community to condemn Putin’s barbaric acts.”

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

In other developments:

– Justice Secretary Dominic Raab visited The Hague on Monday to offer UK legal expertise and technical support to the International Criminal Court as it considers allegations of war crimes.

– The UK will supply Ukraine with more than 500 portable generators to provide energy for essential services, including at hospitals and shelters.

– NHS England will provide treatment for 21 Ukrainian children with cancer forced to flee Ukraine.

– The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill is expected to clear Parliament and become law, paving the way for dozens more oligarchs to be sanctioned.

– Protesters occupied a mansion belonging to sanctioned oligarch Oleg Deripaska in Belgravia, London.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

– The Government is exploring whether properties linked to sanctioned Russians could be used to house refugees.

The escalation of the war in western Ukraine came as Mr Johnson was hosting leaders from the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), an alliance of northern European nations.

Representatives from Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway were due to dine with Mr Johnson at his Chequers country retreat on Monday night before talks in London on Tuesday.

During his call with Mr Zelensky on Sunday, Mr Johnson “said the UK would continue to pursue more options for bolstering Ukraine’s self-defence” including at the JEF meeting.

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