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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Daniel Keane

Home Office agrees to waive £18k visa fees for Ukrainian orchestra set to perform at BBC Proms

The Home Office has agreed to waive visa fees for a Ukrainian orchestra facing a £18,000 bill to perform at the BBC Proms in a “show of solidarity” with Kyiv.

Home Secretary Priti Patel on Wednesday confirmed that the department would not ask the Orchestra to pay the fees after the Standard and a Labour shadow minister highlighted the issue earlier this month.

The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, which includes refugee musicians fleeing Vladimir Putin’s war, had faced a battle to secure the funding to perform at the Proms and the Edinburgh International Festival. Members of the group would have required a Tier 5 creative worker visa for the events, at a cost of £259 per person, despite being able to play in Europe for free.

The orchestra, led by Ukrainian-Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, features musicians from some of Ukraine’s leading classical music groups. They will kick off a Europe-wide tour in Warsaw on July 28 before their performance at the Proms on July 31 and the Edinburgh Festival on August 6.

Labour MP and shadow arts minister Barbara Keeley originally highlighted the issue in Prime Minister’s Questions last month, and later told the Standard that ministers “should be doing everything to get Ukrainian musicians into this country”.

But on Wednesday, Ms Patel confirmed that fees would be waived entirely, tweeting: “The UK welcomes you and we continue in our unwavering support for Ukraine.”

Minister for Safe and Legal Migration, Kevin Foster, said: “The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra and Kyiv Symphony Orchestra have shown incredible resilience and bravery in the face of conflict and the UK is honoured to welcome their musical talent.

“The UK is unwavering in its support for Ukraine, and it is incredibly important we keep raising awareness of the barbaric invasion ongoing in Ukraine.

“Celebrating Ukraine’s culture and music is one way we can keep the country alive in people’s minds.”

Mark Pemberton, chief executive of the Association of British Orchestras, had also criticised the fees and said it would be “morally repugnant” were the Orchestra made to pay.

The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra was put together in conjunction with the New York-based Metropolitan Opera and the Polish National Opera. All of the proceeds from the tour will go towards supporting Ukrainian artists.

The Ukraine Ministry of Culture has already granted a special exemption from fighting to male members of orchestras who are of military-age.

The orchestra has also been given public backing by Ukraine’s culture minister Oleksandr Tkachenko, who said his country’s art “is original and deserves to be at the centre of attention abroad.”

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