British but Ukrainian first: UK father shares hopes to take son back to Ukraine

A UK father whose hopes to take his family back to Ukraine have been dashed by almost two years of war has said he wants his son to know “you are British, but you’re Ukrainian first”.

Ian Umney, 30, said his “world fell apart” when he received a call from his wife, Nelia, 27, on February 24 2022, telling him of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Living in Merseyside for work at the time, the war prompted Mr Umney to quit his job as a courier and English teacher so he could travel to the war-torn country via Poland to be with Nelia and their now four-year-old son Jonathan – a journey which went viral when he posted it on TikTok.

A photo of Nelia Umney and their son Jonathan sitting on a bench
Ian Umney said his ‘world fell apart’ when he received a call from his wife Nelia telling him of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 (Ian Umney/PA)

“With Jonathan, I want him to know yes, you are British, but you’re Ukrainian first – you were born there and that is your land,” Mr Umney told the PA news agency.

“We fully intend to return when it is safe for us to do so and we would like to go back to our home in Nikopol, which at the minute isn’t feasible for safety reasons.”

It comes as more than 10,000 civilians have been killed and nearly 20,000 injured since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the UN said.

As the war reaches its second anniversary on Saturday, Mr Umney said the situation is “depressing”.

“To be two years into a war that’s not going away anytime soon, it’s depressing for me personally,” he said.

A photo of Ian Umney carrying his son
Ian Umney expressed his desire to return to Ukraine with his family ‘when it’s safe to do so’ (Ian Umney/PA)

“I don’t know how I can help as best I can, I don’t know what I can do personally, which frustrates me.”

He added that his wife, who is a teacher, feels “distraught” about not seeing her family members in Ukraine.

“She said it’s unnecessary and she’s really upset about it,” he said.

“She’s been quite distraught about not seeing her dad for two years – she really wants to move back and she’s scared for her dad as well.”

Mr Umney moved to Ukraine in 2016, where he met his wife, but returned to the UK in 2021 for work.

A photo of Nelia Umney with her son Jonathan sitting on a train
Ian Umney entered Ukraine via Poland to be with his wife and son when he heard the news of Russia’s invasion in February 2022 (Ian Umney/PA)

“My world fell apart when I got the call from my wife,” he said.

“My initial thought was ‘I need to get them’ and I was desperate to get out the country to at least try and get towards them.”

Mr Umney quit his job and went to Ukraine to get his family members in a mammoth journey which involved a cross-country car ride of upwards of 30 hours.

“The best way to describe it was pure luck how things fell into place out of chaos,” he said.

Mr Umney said he managed to raise around £2,000 in a few days through TikTok Live in order to buy a car to flee the country because “the trains were too full”.

A photo of Jonathan Umney in a wooded area holding a pair of binoculars and smiling
Ian Umney said getting back to the UK has been ‘the best thing’ for his son Jonathan (Ian Umney/PA)

“I didn’t know if we would make it out, my wife was too scared to leave and I had to really convince her – that was the most difficult part.

“Making it out and getting back to the UK has been the best thing for Jonathan.”

Mr Umney said that his son, who was two years old when they fled Ukraine, was “quite reserved” when they first relocated but has been attending nursery and is due to start primary school this September.

“It was a big impact on Jonathan, especially being the age he was,” Mr Umney said.

“Coming out of one environment into a completely different one – it was a massive change for him and he was quite reserved at the beginning.

“It’s always been about Jonathan and getting him into a routine and getting him settled somewhere, and obviously safe.”

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