There’s a famous quote by American poet, writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou that goes: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

And I suspect that can be expanded to include countries showing you what they are, what their values are, how compassionate they are.

This was written earlier in the week as I listen to the news coming out of Ukraine and the stories of hundreds and thousands of refugees – mainly women and children – fleeing from the Russian invasion.

So what is the EU showing us? It’s showing compassion.

The EU agreed unanimously among all member countries to take in Ukrainian refugees for up to three years without asking them to first apply for asylum.

According to the BBC, around 18 million Ukrainians are expected to be affected by the conflict in humanitarian terms, and about four million to flee the country.


Troops engaged in street fighting in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday (Marienko Andrew/AP)

Troops engaged in street fighting in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday (Marienko Andrew/AP)


The UN’s refugee agency says the number of people fleeing Ukraine had now reached 368,000 at the time of writing, with many in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Moldova and Slovakia.

Moldovan PM Natalia Gavrilita visited the border crossing of Palanca on Saturday, where a tent village and medical facilities have been set up.

"In these dark days for Ukraine, we stand by its citizens," she tweeted. "Moldova will assist those in need of safe transit or shelter. We are with you Ukraine!"

In Bulgaria, people took their cars to the border crossing with Ukraine to ferry refugees to safety. Ireland announced it was waiving its visa regulations for Ukrainian refugees. In Germany, the state rail company, Deutsche Bahn, is allowing anyone with a Ukrainian passport or identity card to travel for free.

When a country shows you what it is, believe it the first time.

I contacted my MP, a Tory, to ask what our government was doing to help those fleeing the war.

To be fair, he responded quickly enough, pointing me in the direction of the Home Office website which told me how those refugees who have fled their homes with little more than what they could carry could apply for a gap year student visa or maybe a seasonal visa so they can come and pick fruit.

This certainly appears to be the government’s position. In a now-deleted tweet, immigration minister Kevin Foster says Ukrainians could qualify for the seasonal worker scheme – where people can come to the UK for up to six months to work in jobs such as fruit picking – or apply for a family visa if they already have a relative in Britain.

Mr Foster posted his message as part of a row about whether the government is still applying normal visa restrictions to those trying to escape the Russian forces attacking Ukraine.

But there has been something of a backlash from all parts of the political spectrum with foreign secretary Foreign Secretary Liz Truss saying the government is 'urgently looking at what more we can do' to help Ukrainian refugees.

This was somewhat contradicted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the weekend who stopped short of welcoming all Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia's invasion – despite promising to help people 'in fear of their lives'.

It means Ukrainians without an immediate family connection to the UK will still be denied refuge in the country.

On Saturday night, the Prime Minister insisted the UK had a long history of helping people fleeing war, and would continue to do so. But by Sunday, Mr Johnson has only welcomed Ukrainians who have family members settled in the UK.

When your government’s idea of support for refugees is nothing more than mealy mouth platitudes, devoid of compassion and not backed by action, they are really showing us exactly who they are. You better believe them.

My real hope, however, is that by the time you read this the pressure on the government has become unbearable and they will finally have done what they should have done in the first place and provided a safe route to this country for Ukrainian refugees.

But to be honest, the government’s lack of action disgusts me.