Spotlight on our participants: Interview with Karyna
Karyna, Vitaliy and their little boy Mir came to Australia fleeing the war in their home country of Ukraine. SSRC was able to help support them to become independent in their Australian journey and settle in the Sutherland Shire. Karyna has provided a beautifully detailed account of their story in our interview below. Pictured left to right is Vitaliy, Karyna with Mir and Eleanor (our Vice President).
How how have you been in Australia?
We have arrived 28 of October 2022.
Where did you live?
Due to the difficult political and economic situation at home, we left to live and work in Italy.
Since 2018 we lived and worked in Rome until October 2022. Vitali’s employer turned out to be untrustworthy, during the whole period of work, he regularly delayed his salary up to 3 months (such terms are legal in Italy, which we did not know about, and it turned out to be very inconvenient for a young family). We had a son. For this reason, we wanted to return home for stability, since we still had real estate there, but there was a full-scale war in Ukraine.
When we arrived in Sydney, we were staying with my relative who lives on Miranda. But we couldn’t stay with her for long, because her apartment wasn’t big, and we slept in her living room.
How did you find living with the host family?
While we were living in Miranda, we applied for an 866-refugee visa. And after that we went to the Red Cross on Town Hall to ask for help with housing while we were on a tourist visa and could not work. Since we arrived after the closure of the humanitarian program for Ukrainians, the Ukrainian community couldn’t help us.
We were very nicely met at the Red Cross, they listened to our situation, enrolled us and told that they would contact us as soon as they had a solution for us. While we were walking in the city on an amazing playground near Darling Harbor, my husband received a call and was told that there was a family in Woronora who wanted to help Ukrainians and if we were interested, they would send us their contacts.
A few days later we moved into the wonderful Australian family of Greek descent in a picturesque area of Woronora. There was no limit to our happiness.
We could have stayed with them until the New Year. We hoped and tried to somehow speed up the process of activating the Bridge visa, for opportunity to work. We consulted with a lawyer at the Gymea canter, but it wasn’t in our power. And then we were helped again by the SSI team, we moved in with their employee, who very kindly offered to stay in her house until we could afford to rent.
We are absolutely happy with this stature in our lives. To immerse yourself in the life of total strangers in a country on the opposite side of the earth, even for a long period of time.... I'm sure not many people get to have this experience in their lifetime. We had it twice in our first 5 months in beautiful Australia. Our unimaginable hardships and absolute unknowns turned into a unique and inspiring experience.
The first host family became like second parents to us. They welcomed us as their children, and our 17-month-old son became a grandparent to them, and they also had a younger daughter who spent the sweetest time with Mir in their home. Vitaly, my husband, lost his father as a child, and for the first time since I had known him, I saw him open up to the older man and accept his teachings with respect and great interest, I think he filled in the small but so important part of every man, the father mentor.
They are kind and sociable people who often make dinner parties. We were uncomfortable, but also terribly interesting to take part in them, lots of good food, new communication and nature as in the travel agency photos.
Also, this family made the first contribution to our understanding of the culture and history of Australia, respect and regret for the violent past of the Aborigines, I even made parallels for myself with the modern history of Ukrainians.
This theme had already been developed for us in the second family where we lived. We became more familiar with indigenous culture because Eleanor and not my mother took us to the Aboriginal Festival. Such events reek of the warmth and togetherness of the people.
We were fortunate to get to know Eleanor intimately, she is the kindest generous person. My husband and I had the impression that she is a friend you've known for a long time. She exemplifies hospitality and ease of communication, but with a high level of politeness and political correctness. I am mesmerized by her ability to communicate, and she has been an example to me in that. And her mom has become an example and mentor to me of how to take care of the house. She is an older woman who manages to work, keep up with the house and the large, beautiful garden, and set aside plenty of time to relax and meet with friends. I've learned a lot and gained useful habits from living near her.
And I can't help but share that in living with these two wonderful families, we learned the heroic stories of the parents of the older members of the families where we lived. And my goodness how priceless it is to hear people's stories firsthand. The people in Australia are immigrants or the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of immigrants. And they all have touching stories of struggles to live a happy life. Hearing their stories changes you from the inside out, makes you fall in love with the person you are talking to and inspires boundless respect, and even if there was a disagreement, you only respond with acceptance and respect for the other position and view.
How long did it take you to find work and an apartment?
Vitaly found a job very quickly, he is a qualified welder with a lot of experience and with an Italian license. But not without help. Here we were helped by our Australian friends, with whom we lived for the first few months, in the company of a family friend, a shortage of skilled workers. Vitaly went for an interview when we were on a tourist visa, and although his English was not high, he successfully passed the interview and got a full-time contract and went to work on the first day when our bridge visa came into effect. He showed quality workmanship and was almost immediately divided over his hours. I am not working yet and babysitting our son, I go to TAFE for English, but I already got an offer to go work in a kindergarten as a nanny.
And renting a place was not easy at all and it took us a lot of time and effort. I spent over a month searching, inspecting and filing applications. All Saturdays were occupied with inspections, the whole family went to look at apartments, as well as on weekdays, I myself ran with my son in my arms at the inspections. We had to consider all the advice and help from different people to get what we wanted. Eleanor wrote a letter of recommendation stating that we were staying with her for a fee, so that our resume was at least a minimum of credibility to the landlord, also I had a great help with the documents and a letter of presentation from a Ukrainian woman I met while walking with my son. And only considering all the recommendations, we were able to succeed. We now live in a magnificent neighbourhood in Cronulla in an old house but in a neat two-bedroom apartment and we are happy to be here.
How is the situation in Ukraine?
The situation in Ukraine has not improved since 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and several other regions of Ukraine. And since full-scale hostilities broke out and Russian troops entered our homeland, things have gotten worse and more tragic there. In a year of war, people who have remained in Ukraine have become accustomed to air raid alarms and if a shell hit a house far from their home, they are no longer frightened and continue their routine. Last month, in the area of my hometown of Kharkov, Russian troops used chemical weapons - white phosphorus. Fortunately, almost all members of my family are now overseas, whoever is where. But my grandparents and my uncle did not leave the country, they moved to western Ukraine, where the situation is as calm as possible. But for the elderly and this is very hard, they wanted to stay in their apartment, where they had lived all their lives, and without traveling much, for them it was a hardship to leave their native comfortable place. My grandfather always worked despite the fact that he is 80 years old, and now he is bored without his employment and only follows the news, and my grandmother fell into a depression.... My uncle, their oldest son, stays by their side and helps with everything.
My husband's mother stays in Ukraine too, she lives in western Ukraine, closer to Europe. It seemed to be a safe area, but even there shells come in and strategic facilities are destroyed by enemy troops. Almost every day young soldiers who have been killed are brought home, and in a small town this is especially noticeable.
How do you see the future of your family in Australia? Do you wish to stay here permanently?
Initially we did not know for sure if we would be able and willing to stay and build our family's future in Australia. During our time living with Australians, we learned about their life and how they feel here, renting apartment in Cronulla for a few months now, experiencing our routine here, we fell in love with the place, nature, culture and we are very eager to become residents of the country. We dream about our feature here, and we fill that it’s one of the best place for our child.
What have been the challenges in Australia?
The main challenge for us is still the English language.
Also, one of the most interesting challenges for me it was to start renting our first apartment. It was hard work.
And we had serious financial difficulties. We came to Australia with meagre savings. Now our situation is much better, Vitaliy works very hard, but we cannot call ourselves self-sufficient yet. We are accepting help from many good people and organizations, in order to reduce our expenses. But even with these difficulties, we feel good thanks to our environment and Australian system.
What opportunities do you think you have here or refugees in general?
Recently, we consulted with an immigration agent, and he told us that our chances of getting a refugee visa are 50/50. We should apply in parallel for a skill visa. This means that we are still in limbo and cannot be sure about our future in Australia. But we are optimistic.
What is your favourite thing about living in Australia?
We meet here mostly kind and sympathetic people, and it costs a lot when you yourself are in an unfamiliar country and with a low knowledge of the language. This is very important to us.
Also, the incredible beauty of nature and its inhabitants sunk deep into our souls, and in the future, at our first opportunity, we want to explore more.
Have you made local friends?
Since my husband works a lot, he manages to communicate only within the framework of work, but he has already found Australians to be nice and friendly people. We keep in touch with the first family, who invited us to her and Eleanor, have already invited them to visit her for a housewarming party. Walking with my son, I have already made many new acquaintances on the playground, but with Russian-speaking mothers who have been living in Australia for a long time.
Also started to visit playgroups at few churches and speaking with native parents too, they are so kind and cute.
Have you seen much of Sydney?
Yes, we try to visit different places in beautiful Sydney. Already we visited 6 art galleries, many playgrounds in different parts of the city (we’ll be an expert on Sydney’s playgrounds, they are exiting), there is one absolutely amazing one in Darling Harbour Tumbalong Park Playground. The botanical garden is so beautiful and spacious that even after visiting it several times we still haven’t seen the whole garden. We’ve been in the wilderness, hiking in Sutherland shire. Australian nature is delightful we are in love in it. We couldn’t imagine that Ficus can be so huge, I was shocked when I saw these large undulating trees, whose roots hang from their branches and make a living fence of themselves.
But we still have a lot to visit. We haven’t been to any zoo yet, and we want to see Opera House from the inside and hear what it sounds like. But we did go to an organ concert at the Town Hall. It was unforgettable experience and the most beautiful organ design we have ever seen.
We love this city, we feel ourselves at home at first after a long time.