STANDING at Przemyśl railway station on Poland’s Ukrainian border, where thousands and thousands of desperate women, children and pensioners are arriving with only the clothes on their backs, it is hard to believe that the year is 2022.

Europe has not seen scenes like this since 1945, when there was a mass exodus of people fleeing Nazi persecution.


Every hour a new train arrives, refugees packed cheek to jowl, in a scene of mass humanity, which is hard to describe.

There are people in wheelchairs, screaming babies in buggies, weeping mothers on the phone to their husbands, who have stayed behind to fight for Ukraine.

Each person has their own unique story of horror and loss to tell. 

I have made several documentaries about the Holocaust and heard the tales of survivors who sought refuge from evil nearly 80 years ago – including my own grandfather’s.

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It’s hard not to be reminded of that history when we witness the mass influx of refugees today.

I think we have all felt an affinity with the Ukrainian people, who until a few weeks ago were living lives so similar to ours.

But I felt a particularly personal connection when I was contacted by Oksana Platero, my Ukrainian dance partner on Strictly Come Dancing in 2016.

While Oksana, 33, is based in the US now, she was going mad with worry for her family, who were all still living in her native city of Kharkiv when war broke out.

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Her mother Inna Dmytrenko, 53, and ten-year-old brother Kyrylo Velychko made it to safety in Hungary, but her grandparents – all of whom have living memories of WW2 – were refusing to evacuate. 

Oksana told me: “My mum was begging my grandmother to go, to evacuate with them. My grandmother just refused to go with them.”

Inna’s 75-year-old mother Lidiya stayed behind, along with Oksana’s paternal grandparents Zoya, 95, and Vasyliy, 87. And then the Russian bombs arrived. 

One narrowly missed Oksana’s family home but blew the roof off a neighbour's house, blasting it right into their garden.

It seems to have been this that finally persuaded Oksana’s family that they would have to make the gruelling journey from the only home they had ever known. 

“At that point, they left with no light, no electricity, with no connection. It is cold in Ukraine without heat,” Oksana explained. 

Oksana’s 95-year-old grandmother Zoya, who remembers the first war, said: 'We will return home – and tyranny will fall'

The two eldest grandparents are unable to walk and her 57-year-old uncle Oleksii, who has a limp, had to help pull them up six flights of stairs during a search for somewhere to rest on their journey through the war-torn nation.

During their flight from the bombing, which has reduced Kharkiv to dust, her uncle’s car was requisitioned by the Ukrainian military and they slept in a kindergarten.

When Oksana spoke to them on the phone, she could hear explosions in the background and windows rattling. 

There is – thankfully – a happy ending, of sorts.

On Monday, we heard that despite no wheelchair, no food or medical supplies, the elderly party had made it across the border into Poland.

Oksana’s 95-year-old grandmother Zoya, who remembers the first war, said: “We will return home – and tyranny will fall.”

I tell the story of Oksana’s family because it encapsulates the plight of so many.

Firstly, because they desperately need basic supplies – food, medicine, a wheelchair.

Refugee red tape


The humanitarian response to the Ukrainian crisis has been breathtaking – from aid organisations like The Red Cross to the incredible kindness of the Polish people, who are giving up their own food and homes to refugees.

But with more and more people arriving into Europe each day, more and more help is needed – which is why I would urge you to support The Sun’s Ukraine Fund.

Secondly, like so many refugees, Oksana’s family seek only temporary shelter. They are desperate to return to their homeland, as soon as peace makes it possible.

They want to get back to their homes and to their menfolk – they wish to stay with us for only the time that is truly necessary.

And that brings us to the third point, which is that while the most dangerous part of their journey is over, for Oksana’s family, the bureaucratic struggle is just beginning. 

British people, with their proud history of welcoming refugees, stand ready to welcome Ukrainians open-armed

They will hopefully be able to join her in the US, but if they wanted to come to the UK, they would find it extremely difficult.

While Poland has taken 1.7million refugees and counting, and the EU has thrown open its doors for three years to anyone with a Ukrainian passport, the British response has been dogged by red tape and tardiness.

There are people arriving in Przemysl who have friends or relatives in the UK, but to join them they must first travel to Warsaw or Krakow and do battle with the British embassy.

There are not enough officials, not enough information, not enough understanding of various unique situations to make seeking refuge in the UK a realistic possibility for many.

The sad thing is that the British people, with their proud history of welcoming refugees, stand ready to welcome Ukrainians open-armed.  

My grandfather was a grateful recipient of British hospitality when he arrived here in 1946… The fact that he was offered shelter when he needed it most is one of the reasons I am so proud to be British

Yesterday, ministers officially announced their policy to allow Brits to house displaced people in their own homes, in return for a £350 a month thank you.

But that will be little more than another noisy virtue signal, unless they put some serious effort into making it not only possible, but easy for people to offer their homes and Ukrainian refugees to accept them.

People want clear and unequivocal guidance, and not to be tied up in red tape without the tools to navigate it.

My own grandfather was a grateful recipient of British hospitality when he arrived here in 1946, having survived Nazi concentration camps.

The fact that he was offered shelter when he needed it most is one of the reasons I am so proud to be British.

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Now is the time, once again, for actions, not words. 

To donate to Oksana Platero's fundraising page click here.



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