Ukraine consul general to Scotland unhappy over Tallink vessel refugee plan

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The MS Victoria I is currently moored at Edinburgh, hosting Ukrainian refugees in Scotland (photo is iilustrative).
The MS Victoria I is currently moored at Edinburgh, hosting Ukrainian refugees in Scotland (photo is iilustrative). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Ukraine's consul general in Scotland has warned First Minister Nicola Sturgeon over what he calls cramped conditions aboard a cruise ship operated by Estonian shipping line Tallink and leased to the Scottish government for the hosting of Ukrainian refugees in that country.

Tallink announced that the cruise vessel, the MS Victoria I, had been leased by the Scottish government for accommodation purposes for a six-month period earlier this month, though it was only on Monday this week that clarification came that people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine were to be residing in the vessel, to be moored off Leith, Edinburgh, adjacent to the Royal Yacht Britannia.

The consul general, Yevhen Mankovskyi, said: "i don't want people to live for six months on the ship' in rooms smaller than a prison cell," U.K. paper The Daily Telegraph reports on its website, though added he had not seen the cabins at first hand himself, and may well take Sturgeon to task on the issue if he feels conditions are not adequate.

"If we receive more and more negative comments about this, negative feedback, after that we can discuss something with the Scottish Government, if that's the case people are not happy with this, maybe we need to change something," Mankovskyi said, adding that "too many" Ukrainians were put up in hotels in Scotland and having to use food banks in order to obtain meals.

Mankovskyi said he only heard about the cruise vessel plan on Monday, the day it was made public, and said he was "shocked" about a situation where people are put up in 739 cabins measuring 86 sq ft (around 8 sq m), with as many as four per room, in comparison with Scottish prison regulations which state a minimum of 48 sq ft (c. 4.5 sq m) be provided to each inmate.

Mankovskyi said that the governments of Scotland and the U.K. as a whole would be better supplying more missiles and other weaponry to Ukrainian forces engaged in the conflict with Russia, following the February 24 invasion.

Up to 10,000 Ukrainians have reportedly arrived in Scotland during that time, The Telegraph reports, while Edinburgh announced Monday it would be suspending its sponsorship scheme for a minimum of three months, due to an overwhelming number of applications received.

The original Telegraph piece is here.*

ERR News asked Tallink about the remarks and the comparison of the situation aboard the Victoria, with families sharing the same cabins together and having access to various services on-board, to the situation in prisons, where unrelated, hardened criminals may be confined for long periods.

Tallink: Accommodation better than most alternatives, comparison to prisons unfair

Tallink spokesperson Katri Link told ERR News Thursday that the comparison was unfair, while the Victoria presented better conditions than other realistic alternatives.

Link told ERR News that: "It is a great shame that people fail to see that the alternative solutions available would be worse than vessels, be they school gyms, military barracks, tents etc."

"The hotels are full, and need to be able to use the summer holiday season to recoup some of the losses made during the Covid years, while affordable accommodation elsewhere is in short supply," Link continued.

The MS Isabelle, another Tallink vessel which had been used for the same purpose in Tallinn, starting April, had proven adequate for the task, Link added.

"We have accommodated Ukrainian refugees on the Isabelle since April 7 and we have had no issues with it. Quite the contrary, people realize that the privacy of a cabin with your own shower and space, albeit a small one, is still better than a mattress on a gym floor, with no privacy."

"The vessels are comfortable, with plenty of public areas and space to use. So, yes, the sleeping area in the cabin may be small, but the overall public areas - with a doctor's surgery, buffet restaurant, cafe, pharmacy, on-board shop for incidentals, and many public services on board - is far more spacious than you would find in hotels, and certainly some other accommodation alternatives. So, we simply don't agree with the criticism, and the comparison to a prison cell is unjust," she added.

"We recommend that the critics pay a visit to the vessels and consider the alternatives before making their comments. We are all working hard and doing our best to look after and provide the best solutions in this situation, to as many displaced persons as possible," Link went on.

The MS Victoria I had most recently sailed the Tallinn-Stockholm route; Tallink now operates one vessel on this line. Edinburgh has leased her for six months with the option of a three-month extension.

*NB The Telegraph reports that the MS Victoria I had previously been used to house Ukrainian refugees in Tallinn. In fact, it was the Victoria's sister ship, the MS Isabelle, which has been used for this purpose, from April.

This article was updated to include comments from Tallink.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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