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50 Ukrainian orphans due to fly to UK stranded in Poland after paperwork blunder
21 March 2022, 20:43 | Updated: 22 March 2022, 00:21
A group of more than 50 Ukrainian orphans who were due to fly to the UK are stranded in Poland after a key piece of paperwork was not provided in time.
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The 52 young travellers, who range in age between one and 18, and their carers were due to fly from Warsaw to London on Monday, before making their way up to Scotland later in the week.
But before the plane departed for Heathrow Airport, a form that should have been sent by the Ukrainian government to the Polish Ministry of Family and Social Policy, needed to release the group, was not sent in time.
The children and their carers are now stranded in a hotel in Poland as they await confirmation of a new flight.
The youngsters are all fleeing Ukraine in a bid to escape Russian attacks, after officials said 115 children have been killed in the conflict so far, and a further 140 wounded.
As the war enters its 27th day, Russia claimed it fired a number of "hypersonic" missiles against targets in western Ukraine.
However a British intelligence update said the claims are likely intended to detract from the lack of progress in Russia's campaign, as the war approaches the one-month mark and the capital of Kyiv remains under Ukrainian control.
Even if true, the deployment of the missiles is "unlikely to materially affect the outcome of Russia's campaign in Ukraine", according to the UK Ministry of Defence.
But Russia's assaults have continued nonetheless, with eight people reported dead after a shopping centre and a number of houses were shelled in the capital late on Sunday night.
And in Kherson - which has been under Russian control since the beginning of March - troops opened fire on anti-Russia protests.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the demonstrators for their courage.
Speaking in a video address, Mr Zelenskyy said that "we saw slaves shooting at free people, slaves of propaganda that replaced their conscience".
He added that the war has turned ordinary Ukrainians into heroes and "the enemy doesn't believe it's all real".
"There is no need to organise resistance," Mr Zelensky added.
"Resistance for Ukrainians is part of their soul."
The Home Office said the delays to bringing the orphans to the UK were the result of problems authorising the backgrounds of the children, who do not have family members to act on their behalf.
A statement from Project Light, the operation to transport the children to the UK, said: "The 52 children and seven adults are currently being taken care of at a hotel in Poland and are safe and well.
"The final paperwork required by the Polish Ministry of Families did not arrive in time for the flight to leave today.
"All the parties involved in this mission are working hard to bring them to the UK in the coming days."
It came after Home Secretary Priti Patel announced on Thursday that the youngsters, who are being cared for by the Scottish charity Dnipro Kids, which was set up by supporters of Edinburgh's Hibernian Football Club, had been given the green light to travel to Britain.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who was due to join the flight, said on Monday evening: "We've been up against a race against time to get the paperwork that needs to be in place signed off on and there's been a delay on that.
"So, for the time being, it means that nothing is going to happen today.
"I think the key thing is that a lot of people will determine everything is done to support the orphans that are currently in Poland.
"That has always been the first and last concern of all of this, so we'll continue to work with everybody to make sure that arrangements can be put in place to give the children that sanctuary in Scotland."
It is not known how many of the group of unaccompanied children are orphans as while they are in the Ukrainian care system, some may have one or both parents still living.
The group also includes children of the carers who are travelling with the group. They had been due to travel to Scotland by train after arriving in the UK.
Dnipro Kids was set up in 2005 after football fans visited local orphanages when Hibernian played against the Ukrainian team Dnipro FC.
The youngsters were due to spend Tuesday sightseeing in London, before heading to rural Stirlingshire on Wednesday.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "It is deeply troubling that these children have been caught up in (Vladimir) Putin's brutal invasion of Ukraine.
"It is right that we only move these children once we have the full, written agreement of their home and host governments.
"The Home Secretary and her counterparts in the Ukrainian, Polish and Scottish Government are united in their determination to ensure these children get the support and care they need."