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23 Mar 2023

News

One year in Australia: How Ukrainian refugees Valeriia and Olga are rebuilding their lives

Olga and her daughters.

Valeriia’s journey began on the morning of February 24, 2022, when her family were woken by bombing at Kiev airport, a short distance from their home. In that moment, they made the decision to pack up their lives and flee in search of safety.

The family arrived in Sydney on March 12, 2022, and were supported by SSI to access the essentials needed to navigate their new home.

“I was surprised someone was caring about us. Then they provided us with a case manager who was very supportive because we were like blind kittens—we didn’t know anything [about Australia],” said Valeriia.

Now, almost 12 months since they left Ukraine, they have found stable accommodation and are determined to contribute to the community that has welcomed them with open arms.

Valeriia is studying English working towards re-building her family’s successful landscaping business in Australia.

They are thrilled that their nine-year-old son, who was homeschooled in Ukraine due to his anxiety, is attending local school and making friends with his classmates for the first time ever.

“The teachers at the school are so supportive, they try so hard and are very creative. For example, the principal brought in dogs just to make him comfortable,” she said.

Olga and her two daughters also found refuge in Sydney in March after fleeing their home in Odessa.

Like many Ukrainians who have left the country, Olga’s friends have been a core support for her and her girls. Having migrated to Australia 20 years ago, they encouraged her to seek asylum and allowed her family to live with them for the first six months in Sydney.

Olga’s SSI case manager Muniera, who has supported the family to register for Medicare, translated documents, organised medical support, provided them with technology, and more, has also been key in their settlement journey.

“I did not imagine that this could happen. She was organised at such a level and so professional; I did not have time to come to my senses. I burst into tears of happiness,” said Olga.

With a 20-year career in Ukraine as an Accountant, Olga quickly found part-time employment as a finance administrator. She is working towards acquiring the English language skills needed to get her overseas qualification and experience recognised.

And like many Sydney locals, on her days off work Olga has been getting out to explore the region’s beautiful scenery and walking tracks.

“My friends gifted me a book of harbour and coastal walks because I enjoy beaches. And I have done maybe six or seven walks now, Bondi, Manly, Coogee, Bundeena,” she said.

Both Valeriia and Olga never imagined they would be forced into the situation they have experienced over the past 12 months. But despite the challenges, they are both determined to make the most out of their lives in Australia and feel positive about the future.

“When I feel bad I look around at my surroundings and see happy people and beauty,” says Valeriia. “A lot of good things have already happened, and I think they will continue to happen.”

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