Ukrainian calls on Climbing Community to help War Refugees

*Updated 27/2 - scroll to see updates

A 17-year-old Ukrainian climber - currently safe in Slovakia - is helping others to find refuge abroad through his European climbing contacts. He's also calling on the wider community to assist in finding and matching potential hosts with refugees. 

Illya Bakhmet-Smolensky became the youngest person in the world to climb 9a in 2018 at age 13. Now, he's coordinating an international effort to help his compatriots following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In an Instagram post - which Illya is regularly updating - the English message reads:

We are now in Slovakia. Many European climbers know me and have already texted to me about providing help with housing. Since I'm currently at home in complete safety, I'm ready to match you with the locals! Therefore, if there's anyone in need - please text me! There are already FREE places to stay in
- Slovakia(Zhilina)
- Czech republic (Prague, maybe over 100 places)
- Georgia
- Germany(Frankenjura, Berlin, Freiburg and some other places) and possibly Poland.

Poland also provides an opportunity to enter universities as refugees (both Slovakia and Poland allows to cross the borders with almost no documents and everyone in a row).

If there are some other people willing to help those in need with house-sharing - text to me or spread the post! The post will be edited if there is something new! As an addo, there are a lot of volunteers on both Slovak and Polish borders with cars that will willingly help passers!'

Illya told UKC:

"We are looking for a way to spread the word more efficiently... Because now, most of those in need are in a hurry leaving, so they don't have the time to scroll through social media. If anyone has any ideas or thoughts on it, they should share and bring it to action."

The climbing community is far-reaching and close-knit. Perhaps you know someone who can host or help, or know a Ukrainian seeking refuge? If so, get in touch with Illya via his Instagram direct messages.

The UK Home Secretary has implemented measures to support British nationals and their families in Ukraine, including temporarily waiving application fees for those eligible under the Family Migration route, allowing entry for 12 months for others who do not meet the requirements and fast-tracking visas through a 24/7 helpline. Find UK visa information here.

As of yesterday (25 February), Ireland is accepting Ukrainian refugees without the need for a visa.

Update 27/2: Illya has created a live document with accommodation offers that he can send to refugees seeking options. He is still accepting offers from hosts to add to the list, alongside Fedir Samoilov (UKR national team member), and requests from refugees. Contact Illya or Fedir via Instagram.

The EU has announced visa waivers in all EU states for Ukrainian refugees for up to 3 years without the need for asylum applications, citing a humanitarian crisis with a predicted displacement of more than 7 million refugees. 

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26 Feb

I've some space. If anyone has a colleague/climbing partner/friend in need of a place to sleep and not averse to being in Perth, drop me a DM.

No cheeky Sheff climbers with fake accents looking for a free gaff; I'm wise to you.

26 Feb

A laudable effort but needs some re-thinking. Refugees entering the EU (that is those seeking asylum) are not free to go where they want. Crossing the border their claim for asylum is initially processed then they are allocated to an EU land where they are registered, screened (mainly for special needs and medical treatment) then allocated accomodation. Travel outside their allocated area is restricted until their application is fully settled. They receive the right to stay (for initially 3 years if I remember right), food, money, accomodation and medical treatment etc at the states cost.

Someone entering as a "tourist" i.e not claiming asylum on entry must show the usual means of support, proof of intention to return, health insurance etc. They can travel where they like within Schengen but must leave in 90 days. Arriving as a tourist they may later then claim asylum but are then, again allocated accomodation. It isn't a free choice.

It may seem a nice idea to give a Ukranian a bed for a while but unless the conflict is ended within a few months and they want to return it is a mistake for them not to claim asylum and be able to build a future elsewhere.

26 Feb

The ever generous and warm hearted Priti Patel is not offering any visas or visa waivers to Ukrainian refugees. Changing the bulbs outside Downing Street is as far as she's prepared to go.

26 Feb

I get that there's a system, of course.

That said, three months of being a tourist before entering an underfunded and poorly administered system would be my preferred option, speaking as someone with resources behind him. And a lot could change with regards to visas etc. in that time.

Illya is compiling separate lists of people with the capacity to host and people in need of help, then matching them appropriately. He's not arranging things willy-nilly, nor will refugees expect that. At the moment people are simply keen to escape to safety and the prospect of what will happen in three months probably feels a long way off and a complete unknown, so they'll take whichever option is open to them, I suspect.

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