A group of 50 orphans evacuated from Ukraine by a charity established by Scottish football fans will arrive in the UK on Monday.
After drying tears for abandoned teddy bears and navigating the demands of international bureaucracy, the children would be “welcomed with open arms”, said Steven Carr, chair of the Edinburgh-based charity Dnipro Kids.
He flew to Ukraine several weeks ago to oversee the evacuation of the children, who are aged between two and 17, from the city of Dnipro to Poland, where they have been staying in a hotel in Poznan and supported by local refugee organisations.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, announced last Friday that Ukrainian authorities had confirmed the group would be able to continue their journey to the UK.
Duncan MacRae, media manager for the charity, said the weekend had been used to finalise paperwork with the British embassy team from Warsaw.
Speaking from Poznan, MacRae explained: “It’s a very complex operation and every time you think you have things sorted, something else becomes unsorted.”
The children were enjoying the play area in the hotel, he said, and staff had organised other activities such as ten-pin bowling and watching movies.
The charity began in 2005, when a group of Hibernian FC fans travelled to Dnipro for a UEFA Cup game and organised a collection for local orphans. Within a year, Dnipro Kids had been officially launched back in Edinburgh, raising £16,000 in donations from supporters.
In the intervening seven years, the charity has supported six “orphanages” – family-style accommodation for children whose parents have died or who are otherwise unable to care for them because of mental illness, physical disability or addiction.
The youngsters remain in good spirits, MacRae said, and are finding the international media interest in their journey “funny and a bit bizarre”. Their “house mothers” are understandably more anxious: “I don’t think they’ll relax until we are all on the plane.”
There are plans to keep the group together initially, and they will spend their first few weeks in the Scottish countryside near Callander.
The charity has arranged for Ukrainian-speaking child psychologists and art therapists to be on hand once the group reach their temporary sanctuary, while children in a local primary school in Edinburgh have been making cards explaining how to adapt to life in Scotland.
The group will be accompanied back to the UK by Ian Blackford, the Scottish National party’s Westminster leader, who urged the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, to intervene in their case at last week’s prime minister’s questions, accusing Home Office bureaucracy of leaving them stranded.
An initial group of children and young people made a 13-hour journey on crowded trains from central Ukraine to Lviv as the bombardment of their city began two weeks ago, before travelling across the border to Poland. They were later joined by another group who were evacuated by bus.
The children were allowed to take one backpack each, containing clothes, toiletries and precious toys.
“One little girl had a collection of teddy bears, but she could only bring one small one. She was crying in the night, worried about the other bears. We called a friend still in Dnipro and they went back to the house to pick them up, so now she knows they are safe.”