TENS of thousands of people have signed an open letter to the Home Secretary urging her to publish a plan outlining how the UK will ensure safe and legal passage for Ukrainian refugees.

UN agencies estimate that between one million and three million Ukrainians may try to leave the country in the coming weeks, as the nation faces Europe’s largest ground offensive since the Second World War.

Some 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed, according to the country’s health minister – while thousands more have been wounded.

As of Saturday afternoon nearly 60,000 people had signed the petition, which has a target of 100,000 signatures, on the 38 Degrees website. It came as new YouGov research showed 63% of UK residents support introducing a scheme to resettle "some" Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.

Despite Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the UK Government has stopped accepting visa applications from Ukrainian citizens stuck in the country – effectively meaning there are no safe and legal routes for Ukrainians aiming to come to the UK unless they already have relatives here. 

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Priti Patel has extended the amount of time Ukrainians already in the UK for work, study or tourism have before they must leave, but at present there is no settlement scheme for people fleeing Ukraine.

At the same time, Ireland’s Taoiseach has signalled that the country is prepared to take refugees for resettlement who do not have family in the nation already..

And Ukraine’s neighbouring Poland is accepting people fleeing the country even if they don’t have visas, with mobile refugee reception centres set up at border points.

It all comes as the Tory government prepares to crack down on undocumented peoples entering the UK, under the new Nationality and Borders Bill. The legislation would criminalise those entering the UK without a visa if they have already passed through a safe country on their route to Britain.

Against this background, many were critical of the Home Office for opting to fly the Ukrainian flag in solidarity with the country on Friday night.

The open letter Patel calls for urgent action to ensure the safe passage of those fleeing Ukraine.

“We have watched on in horror as tensions have escalated into a full Russian invasion of Ukraine,” the organisers state. “Russia’s aggression threatens countless lives and millions more Ukrainians will be forced to flee their homes.

“The UK can and should help those fleeing war in Ukraine. Please urgently outline how Britain will provide safe and legal routes for refugees in their time of need.”

The National:

The SNP’s shadow home secretary Stuart McDonald (above) also called on the UK Government to step up its humanitarian efforts in response to the crisis.

"While the situation is fast moving, we are clearly going to see a significant movement of refugees from Ukraine into neighbouring EU countries and beyond,” he said.

"I urge the UK Government to bring forward a serious humanitarian response plan including safe legal routes to the UK. This must include much broader rights for Ukrainian nationals to join both British and Ukrainian family members who are already here in the UK – rather than expecting them to seek asylum in Poland, away from their families.

“And it must also make clear we are willing and prepared to take Ukrainian refugees here as part of the Global Resettlement Scheme, if that is advised by UNHCR and requested by our European allies.”

To sign the petition, click here.