February 28, 2022 8.30 pm

‘They feel the bombs exploding’: Lincoln village family’s fears for relatives in Ukraine

Peter and his son are campaigning to get visa rules relaxed

A Lincoln village family with relatives in Ukraine are calling on MPs to put pressure on the government to relax visa rules.

Russia launched a military attack in Ukraine on Thursday, February 24 and explosions have been heard near major cities. Over 100 civilians in Ukraine have been killed, and more than 300 injured, although the real figure is feared to be “considerably higher”, the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday, according to Reuters.

It was a very scary birthday for Peter Rowlett, who lives in Nettleham, last Thursday as once news of the Russian invasion broke he was concerned about his family living in Ukraine.

Peter’s niece-in-law Svitlana, and her partner, as well as her daughter Marta and her husband Alexander, live in Lviv which is a city near the Ukraine-Poland border.

He has offered to put his family up, but they need a visa to gain entry to the UK. Peter wrote to his local MP Sir Edward Leigh last Friday (February 25), and is asking others to do the same, to put pressure on the government to relax visa rules.

The Lincolnite has contacted Sir Edward Leigh to see what action he plans to take in response to Peter’s letter.

Peter’s son Paul with Marta’s husband, Alex, who is not shown for safety reasons.

Peter told The Lincolnite that although his family live away from the main conflict, they are still within distance enough to “see things going off, hear bombs exploding, and sometimes feel them”. Air raid sirens have been going off every night and residents are being herded into shelters, including Peter’s extended family.

He said: “I was shocked and devastated about the Russians moving into Ukraine. We just couldn’t believe it and are very worried about our relatives out there.

“They were were thinking of leaving the country if they could, but have changed their mind for the moment and will stay where they are.

“I have written to Sir Edward Leigh and I have asked others to do the same. We think it’s poor from the government in the UK to offer such limited access to our country for the refugees from the Ukraine, when the EU have offered unlimited access.

“I am getting more worried as I can only see it going one way. I can’t see how the Ukrainians can hold out indefinitely and, if anything, can see the Russians making it worse.”

Peter posted in a local Facebook group saying Thursday was a birthday he would “not forget” as he appealed for help and got an overwhelming response from the Nettleham community.

He said his family in Ukraine are “terrified” and can “hear and feel bombs falling near them”, but that the UK government “are not processing visas for Ukrainian refugees”.

He asked residents to contact the local MP to put pressure on the government, and said he has been “inundated with offers of help” from people in the community.

People have offered accommodation and to join other national campaigns to raise money for people in Ukraine, as well as to provide food and clothing.

Peter’s son Paul, who is from Lincoln but now based in Taunton, is also actively campaigning to put pressure on the government to relax visa rules.

He told The Lincolnite there were some relaxing of the rules last night but not enough, and he said it was a “shamefully transparent way of [the government] sidestepping the issue” and made him “feel ashamed to be British”.

The family ties with Ukraine go back further as Paul’s late uncle and grandfather, Valery and Leon, lived there.

Paul is speaking to his family in Ukraine at least once a day via social media and is determined to do what he can to help.

He said: “We are very worried about it. They [Svitlana and Marta] are family members who we have always maintained contact with. I visited them in Ukraine before the pandemic began and was treated as close family.

“It is extremely worrying and they are facing making a choice between trying to stay and maintain their lives and professional jobs, or becoming refugees.

“They are in the west of the country so not the part most exposed to the violence. They are feeling very anxious and wondering what the right thing to do would be. They weren’t like some people who fled straight to the border and, even though it is not a big assault on their particular city, it is still very sobering.”

Paul, whose late grandfather Leon and uncle Valery also lived in Ukraine, is determined to put more pressure on the government to get a larger relaxation of the visa rules and has contacted his local MP in Taunton – Rebecca Pow.

He has also written to the Home Secretary and the Minister for Immigration, adding: “I’d like to keep the pressure on as I don’t think enough has been done and I don’t feel like much has been achieved, the government needs to do more.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered for a candlelit vigil at Lincoln Cathedral on Sunday evening in a show of support for Ukraine.