Ukrainian child wins visa battle in UK after pet guinea pigs approved in front of her

Nataliia Zavhorodnia, 15, was classified as an “unaccompanied child” even though she was traveling with her aunt, which initially made her ineligible for a visa

Nataliia Zavhorodnia (R), with her aunt Millena Kornieieva and the guinea pigs Melon and Julienne
Nataliia Zavhorodnia (R), with her aunt Millena Kornieieva and the guinea pigs Melon and Julienne

A Ukrainian refugee child whose guinea pigs were allowed to travel before her has been granted the right to enter the UK following a change in visa rules.

Nataliia Zavhorodnia, 15, was classified as an “unaccompanied child” despite traveling with her aunt after being forced to abandon her parents in the war daily record reports.

Under current immigration regulations for Ukrainian refugees, this meant she was not eligible for a visa.

It let her in one absurd situation where the pets were approved while she dealt with the bureaucracy of the Home Office.

But a campaign to allow her safe travel to the UK has now proved successful and could help other youngsters in the same situation.

Nataliia Zavhorodnia (R) with her mother Hanna before Russia invaded Ukraine

Kate Fuller, 40, who was brought together to give Nataliia a spare room at her home in Hamilton that she shares with husband Martin, 37, said: “It’s a great happy ending for Nataliia, we’re all so thrilled but I just think of all the other kids in the same situation.”

Her MP, Margaret Ferrier, secured Natalia’s visa approval on Wednesday after urging last-minute intervention from the Refugees Secretary, Lord Harrington, who had personally signed for entry into the UK.

As late as Tuesday night, the Interior Ministry rejected the application again, making it likely that Natalia would either have to return to Ukraine or go to a refugee camp.

It is understood her case is likely the first of its kind to be approved for travel – giving hope to other children traveling without their parents.

Ferrier said: “I am grateful that Ministers have taken note of this case and recognized the urgency that Natalia did not have to return to Ukraine alone.

“I hope that other cases can now be resolved quickly so other children don’t have to go through the same stressful situation as Nataliia.”

Natalia’s mother Hanna had made the difficult decision to persuade her daughter to leave Ukraine with her aunt Millena because young women are at risk of being attacked by invading Russian soldiers.

Martin Fuller and Kate Laverty Fuller of Hamilton have volunteered to take in two Ukrainian refugees


Markus Anderson)

Margaret Ferrier, MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West



The couple fled to neighboring Moldova before arriving in Hungary, where they had been staying in temporary accommodation in Budapest while visa applications for the UK were submitted.

Hanna, 42, remains in Kyiv with Nataliia’s nine-year-old brother Sasha and father Oleksii, 42, who is helping with the war effort.

But while a visa for Millena, 34, was approved almost immediately in early April, Nataliia’s was denied because she is classified as an “unaccompanied child” as she is traveling without her parents – despite producing documents proving her approval.

But while the teenager was told no, at the same time another part of the UK government – the Department for Food and Rural Affairs – approved travel for her two guinea pigs, Melon and Julienne, under a special Ukrainian pet travel scheme.

As the Sunday Mail revealed last month, Nataliia wrote a heartfelt letter to the Home Office, including Secretary Priti Patel, and told how she feared having to return to Ukraine and “to return to the danger of returning and getting on with the war before my window to live”.

MP Ferrier, who has been working with her team on the case for the past two months, added: “I am delighted that the Home Office has finally approved Natalia’s application to enter Scotland. I very much look forward to meeting Nataliia and Millena once they have had the opportunity to settle into their new home.

“Kate should be incredibly proud of her dedicated standing up for Nataliia through a long and difficult process. I am also very proud of my team who have worked tirelessly to make this happen.”

Kate told the Sunday Mail that Nataliia and Millena have now traveled to Paris from Budapest and are planning to catch the ferry to Dover to arrive in the UK this Friday.

Kate and Martin make arrangements to get her from Dover to Hamilton.

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