British Airways has apologized after refusing to allow a Ukrainian family, including an eight-year-old girl, to board a flight to the United Kingdom, despite having all the correct travel documents.
The family of three has fled their home in Kharkov, which has suffered some of the most intense Russian bombings, after waiting more than two weeks to obtain visas for the United Kingdom.
They traveled 800 miles to Warsaw Airport in Poland, where they were to fly to London under the UK Government’s Home for Ukraine scheme.
Vira Ribalchenko, 68, lost her passport during the evacuation, but was assured by the British embassy that she would be allowed to travel because she had a paper copy of the document, as well as a newly issued British visa and a Ukrainian ID card.
The family passed through the security of the airport without any problems, but minutes before they had to board their flight, BA employees wrongly told Ribalchenko that he could not leave without his original passport.
BA admitted it was a mistake and apologized to the family after contacting the Guardian. It says: “We are very sorry for the real mistake made by our team in trying to follow the guidelines of the Ministry of Interior and have put in place measures to ensure that this does not happen again. We are in contact with the family to apologize and will ensure a full refund of their tickets. “
Ribalchenko’s daughter, Hana Zahovaeva, said: “It was a terrible experience and my mother was absolutely shocked. I couldn’t leave my mother in Poland because she doesn’t understand the language and doesn’t know anyone, and she has nowhere to stay. “
Zahovaeva, 37, said her eight-year-old daughter, Sofia, was “very traumatized” by the war and spoke to her father, Konstantin, in Kharkov every day to make sure “he is still alive”.
The family had arrived at the airport at 6 a.m. with all their belongings before the 8:25 a.m. flight to London Heathrow. Zahovaeva, an accountant, said they were left “without explanation or apology” by BA employees after they were wrongly denied permission to board.
Eventually, they boarded a flight to London at 20:00 on LOT Polish Airlines, after an employee of the Hungarian airline Wizz Air created a temporary travel document for Ribalchenko.
Zahovaeva said she had seen another family rejected by BA officials and that it could have happened to many others. “When we spoke to the airport visa center, they told us that most families would be in the same situation. [regarding incomplete documents] and they were shocked that BA did not allow us to board, even though we had a visa, ”she said. “They said it was a huge problem that many families would face.
BA declined to say how many other Ukrainian passengers were wrongly rejected.
Zahovaeva, her daughter and mother now live with their family in Surrey, Kate Larmer and Charlie Boffin, who helped set up the Farnham Homes for Ukraine to compare strangers in the UK to Ukrainians fleeing the war.
Tatiana Moskalenko, a Ukrainian living in the UK who helps run the group, said airlines should know that refugees are allowed to board flights as long as they have a valid visa. She said: “We are currently helping 87 families [get to the UK] and in each of these families there are no documents, either because he was lost in the evacuation, or because his passport has expired. This is a government guideline that they do not have to have a valid passport to travel because they are refugees – it is enough if they have a visa. “
BA is facing weeks of turmoil with multiple canceled flights caused by IT damage and staff shortages.