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Scots official evacuated from Ukraine clutching his baby calls on UK government to help the friends he left behind

A government official from Perthshire has told how he fled Ukraine on a RAF plane clutching his two-year-old daughter, as war loomed over the country.

Duncan Spinner (51) from Pitlochry was living in Ukraine working on a project for OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe).

The former Strathallan pupil, who grew up at Loch Tummel, was evacuated from his post in Lviv with six hours notice – 48 hours before the Russian troops invaded.

The single dad had tested positive for Covid and was unable to fly on a commercial jet.

He and his daughter, Ingrid, were the first passengers on the RAF C17 – who had arrived in Lviv carrying British Embassy staff who had been evacuated from Kyiv – as they fled Ukraine at 3am in sub-zero temperatures.

On board an RAF C17 flight out of Ukraine to Brize Norton, Duncan Spinner cradles his daughter Ingrid

Duncan and Ingrid were safely landed in Brize Norton before Putin’s assault began. Unlike those without his British passport, he had a relatively seamless journey to safety.

But he says ever since, he cannot sleep for thoughts of what will happen to the people who had to stay behind.

For the previous seven years he was employed in Ukraine working with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

For the first four and a half years he was head of the Ukrainian territory of Luhansk with 330 staff – his job was to help reduce the impact of the conflict with Russia which began in 2014, not weeks ago.

For the last two years he was working to assist with gender issues in Lviv.

Now back in Scotland, Duncan is frantically trying to find safe places for the 800-plus Ukrainians who worked alongside him to go now their country is in ruins.

Ukrainians associated with the British presence in the country were relocated but crucially not evacuated out.

“The men were told they had to stay and fight,” Duncan said. “Some organizations kept to the rules. Others, well they understood this was a war situation and normal rules don’t apply.

“Some got their people out, but as is normal in sudden conflict, many more were trapped.”

Duncan went on to explain some “high-risk extraction” was going on and he was trying to find anyone he could who would be prepared to “share space with trusted friends”.

He continued: “I know of people in Finland who have agreed to drive to Poland to pick a few people up. I know of a senior British police officer who was out there who is finding safe places in Europe.

“I know of seven houses in Sweden that are already full of people escaping the violence.”

“They are going to Germany, Prague, Copenhagen, but not to the UK at this moment,” he said.

“These people are perfect English speakers, highly-motivated, bright, talented – and so far not a single one has assurances they can come to the UK.”

Duncan shared a picture of a woman he was in contact with – Ivanna Honak – a lecturer and a city guide.

It shows a drained looking mum with her three kids snuggled together, out cold with exhaustion behind her.

Since the heart-breaking selfie was taken of the family on the run, the Ukrainian widow has made it to Munich to safety with her three children.

“Seven million people are on the move,” Duncan said.

“There is a wave of departing talent. The UK could well do to have people from Lviv – it specialized in IT development, as a center for IT, the brains based in Lviv were the best in Eastern Europe.

“The people I’m thinking about were skilled in human resources, accountancy, IT and hospitality. But so far I’ve not brought anyone to the UK.

“We need Priti Patel to step up to the same level that is being shown in Europe. The basic fact is these people are never going home. Ever. The world has changed.”

Duncan addressed Aberfeldy’s business community this week to explain why it is currently impossible for the generous offers of sponsorship given by hoteliers, restaurant, cafe and pub owners, to be straightforwardly taken up by desperate Ukrainian nationals because of red tape.

He told the Perthshire Advertiser he was “deeply ashamed” the UK was not offering a way in for the people he had grown to love as he called on international business contacts to set up safe houses, transport, accommodation and funds for his friends in Lviv .

Duncan has lived in Bosnia, Iraq and Yemen. Coming from a military background – Duncan was a little under 20 years with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders – this is his ’12th war’.

“But for the young staff members and their families who were loyal colleagues in Lviv, this is only their first war,” he said.

Lviv is a university city, is a UNESCO world heritage site, has fine buildings, a grand theatre. Before Covid, around two million visitors went there every year.

Thousands of refugees have gone there as fighting and shelling have destroyed parts of the country’s eastern side.

But Lviv is full. This week it was reported 200,000 refugees pack out empty schools, churches, sports stadiums and more.

Fleeing mothers and children are put up in a playhouse and the city mayor Andriy Sadovyi warns his city is now at bursting point.

“Lviv is managing a humanitarian crisis,” said Duncan. “It is like a tsunami, one wave of arrivals then another, even bigger. Water shortages are coming. Sanitation breakdown is coming.

“The mayor is doing a fabulous job, but I’m certain my friends need to get out or face despair.”

Perthshire businesses remain ready to offer a safe haven to Ukrainian nationals fleeing the war.

Last week Aberfeldy businessman Gavin Price, owner of The Schiehallion Hotel, tweeted offering two safe places to work and stay for Ukrainian nationals.

He was then contacted by 15 local businesses who between them were able to dig up a total of 50 places to base refugees with work and lodgings in the district.

Duncan Spinner said: “When I tell Ukrainians about Scotland, of the lovely people, the wonderful scenery, in my mind I’m thinking most of beautiful Highland Perthshire.”

Schiehallion Hotel manager Julie Dunbar said: “We need to keep the pressure on the Home Office and Westminster to do the right thing and let people who wish to get refuge have a safe haven.

“The Home Office must ease the visa entry requirements for Ukrainian nationals immediately.

Rebecca Newman of Errichel, the two AA star restaurant, rental cottages and farmshop in Aberfeldy, said: “We cannot stand by and watch this humanitarian disaster unfold in Europe and not open our doors and welcome people to the UK.

“It is clear our community are willing and able to offer employment, accommodation and help in any way we can.”


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