Ukrainians are facing a difficult dilemma about whether to return to their homeland as the war approaches the two-year mark, a leading humanitarian worker said as he acknowledged a sense of “Ukraine fatigue” in the global attention on the conflict.

The number of arrivals to the UK on Ukraine visa schemes is nearing 200,000, according to the latest figures, with some questions around what might happen when the first visas run out in March next year.

Research published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in July suggested that more than half of adults who fled Ukraine due to the war want to stay in the UK even when it is safe to return to their home country.

Ukrainian Red Cross director general, Maksym Dotsenko, said the issue of those who fled at the outbreak of war in February 2022 and since then is something now part of a “very big discussion” in Ukraine society and in government.

In an interview with the PA news agency he also noted the difficulty in keeping a focus on the ongoing conflict, as he acknowledged the need for aid and attention on what is happening in the Middle East.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
The Union flag and the flag of Ukraine fly above Downing Street, London, following the announcement of a major new package of £2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine over the coming year (Yui Mok/PA)

During his visit to London this week, he said: “Of course there is some Ukraine fatigue. It’s not the first month, it’s almost two years of the war.”

He added: “Ukrainians definitely feel this, that the attention is going down. I don’t think that Ukrainians feel very much the lack of funding for the humanitarian response, for example, but the attention is going down.

“We see this in media. We see this on TV, you know, like in internet, social networks.”

He went on to say that most Ukrainians understand why this is the case, as worldwide attention shifted to Gaza where thousands have been killed following the Israeli offensive in the wake of the deadly Hamas attacks of October 7.

Mr Dotsenko said there are “layers” of issues for Ukrainians including a decrease in global focus on the war in their country, the length of the fighting with little end in sight and “increasing pressure” on mental health which, when combined, “makes the situation very difficult”.

Of the Ukrainian public, he said: “The main problem (is) that people don’t see the end, you know, don’t see this light in the tunnel.”

It has become very much “a norm” for people there to live their lives through sirens and missile attacks but life has been put “on pause”, with some couples unsure on whether to start a family due to their unknown future, he said.

He added: “People (are) just feeling that ‘okay, next missile attack’, so it’s like fate, you know, like, you will be alive or killed. So it’s part of life.”

That new normal for people who are living in Ukraine makes it difficult for those who fled to decide on their return, he said.

There is currently “very big discussion in society and in the government (about) how to motivate people to come back”, he said.

He added: “For now it’s still very, very sensitive, very difficult.

“When you are living outside of Ukraine, you see only the negative points of life, you know, and it’s very difficult to make a decision to come back.”

Last year’s ONS research involving some 10,000 people granted a visa under the UK Government schemes found the most common reasons given for intending to stay in the UK were due to work opportunities, wanting to be in an English-speaking country, and the belief that the quality of life is better in the UK than it would be in Ukraine.

Those more likely to report intending to live in the UK even when Ukraine is considered safe tended to be aged between 18 and 49, paying for their own accommodation, employed or self-employed and proficient in English, the ONS said.

Voicing his gratitude for international support, Mr Dotsenko said his organisation could not do its humanitarian work without this, describing the UK as “from the very beginning, one of the strongest allies of Ukraine”.

In a direct plea to the public to continue their support for Ukraine where possible, he said he understands British society might be “tired”, but added: “Please remember about the millions of people who are in the centre of Europe in the 20th century suffering because of such a crazy and unnecessary war.”

The British Red Cross, which has helped tens of thousands of Ukrainians in the UK with emergency assistance and case work support, said the visa schemes “should be celebrated for providing a swift route to safety for thousands of people fleeing conflict”.

But the charity added that certainty is needed as visas come close to expiring.

The Government has previously said it will give an update on the future of the Homes for Ukraine scheme – launched in March 2022 – “well before the first visas expire”.