*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
- Czech republic (Prague, maybe over 100 places)
- 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.