By Bev Jordan
Ukrainians Family Olena and Vadym have found a safe haven for themselves and their five children at the Rouse Hill home of a stranger after fleeing Moscow where Vadym had been working.
They decided to get out of the country after they believed it was not safe for Ukrainians in Russia.
Olena said at first they had no idea about the full extent of the invasion until they heard from family living near Kyiv.
“My parents called me to say they could hear the shooting in their town and could see black smoke.”
Her parents live in Irpin where the first rockets landed nearby. Olena’s brother Yuri and his wife Alyona and two sons, Makar (5) and Nazar (8) also live in Irpin, a town beside Bucha where many bodies have been uncovered.
“My parents lived in the basement of their building for two weeks … there was no water or electricity,” said Olena. Her parents were finally evacuated to Germany where they are now in accommodation for displaced persons. Yuri, who is not a soldier, has stayed to defend his country while his wife and sons have found refuge in Poland.
Vadym’s parents and sister are still in Kharkiv, a Ukrainian city close to the border with Russia, which is under siege, it is too dangerous to leave.
Olena said it took a few days for people in Russia to realise the significance of the “military operations” which they thought would be over in a day. “We couldn’t believe what was happening. After one week we knew we had to get out very quickly.”
She said getting flights out of Moscow was very hard and expensive. They bought tickets to Egypt and told officials they were having a family holiday with their five children but officials questioned Vadym for so long at the airport that they missed their flight.
“It was terrible, we had to return to our Moscow unit and buy new tickets which cost three times more,” said Olena. Conscious of not frightening their children (Alicia, 2; Kateryna 6; Anton, 10; Mariia 12 and Vladyslav, 15) who thought they were going on holiday, they only packed three suitcases of summer clothes to look like tourists as well as packing all their documents. They stayed in Egypt for nearly two weeks.
“We flew out of Moscow on 6th March,” says Olena. “We felt better when we got to Egypt, we didn’t know where to go next. We chose Australia because it is a non-nuclear country, we know some English and we wanted to be safe.”
Retired policeman Greig (who asked for their surname not to be used) said he was recovering from COVID at home in Rouse Hill when he heard what was happening in the Ukraine and wanted to help.
He contacted the Australian Ukraine Association via their website to offer help with furniture and clothing. He also indicated that he had spare rooms in his home and could offer emergency accommodation to Ukrainians in need.
The next day he was contacted and asked if he would take in a family of 7 due out of quarantine later that week and he said yes.
Since arriving in Rouse Hill they have celebrated Kateryna’s sixth birthday and in a few days time Alicia turns 3 years old.
“The thing that gets me,” said Greig “is that six weeks ago they were living relatively normal lives and in a very short space of time that has drastically changed, the life they thought they were going to have has changed and they have had to come to terms with that.”
He is now trying to help the family find accommodation in the Hills area, enroll the children at local schools and link them to support organisations as well as move them from tourist visas to humanitarian visas.
Friends have been helping him transport the family to where they need to go and helping ensure they have practical help with car seats, bedding and other needs.
Olena said: “Greig has done so much for us, we are very grateful.”
If anyone does have a 3-4 bedroom house available to rent in the Hills district can they please contact Olena and Vadym on 0408 485 317.
COVER: Olena’s 5-year-old nephew Makar on a train out of the Ukraine to the safety of Poland.