A family who fled the war in Ukraine is settling into their new home at Redcliffe – but their mission for survival is far from over.
The Torchinska family was living in Kyiv when Russia declared war and within days found themselves hiding in the basement of their apartment building to avoid the bombs destroying their city.
At the same time, on the Redcliffe peninsula, brother and sister Nick and Olena Torchinska were desperately raising money and hatching a plan to help them escape.
Thanks to the generosity of family, friends and the Redcliffe community who helped pay for flights, seven of the nine members of the family are now in Australia.
The husbands of two of the women remain in their homeland, conscripted by the Ukraine government to help fight in the war.
Olena and Nick flew to Poland in March, determined to bring their cousin Sasha and her 12-year-old twins Kiril and Arina, cousin Jana and her three-year-old Monica and uncle Vova and aunt Galya to Australia.
It was a logistical challenge, with fuel commandeered for the war and Russian bombs constantly raining down on key cities.
Olena says her family hid in the basement for four or five days, before moving to Makariv on their way to Poland.
“They were lucky because they had cars and slowly made their way to the border,” Olena explains.
“They didn’t have any fuel because it was all taken by the soldiers, but friends found a person willing to give them fuel.
“They finally got to the border but (Jana and Sasha) had to leave their husbands behind.
“My uncle was let out because he’s 70.”
Olena had just enough money raised to pay for flights, but when Simone Vidler read of the family’s plight on Facebook, she couldn’t get it out of her mind.
“I just knew I had to help,” Simone says.
“Olena and her brother came out to my house and I booked them a flight through my Amex agent for the next Thursday.
“(Husband) Mick and I are in a position where we are able to do something – we needed to get them out, and that’s what we did.”
Olena says her family has been overwhelmed by their welcome to Australia and by the community’s generosity, with donations of clothing, furniture and other items making their transition easier.
“My family was taken aback by how much people have done,” she says.
Southern Cross Catholic College at Scarborough has taken Arina and her brother Kirial in on scholarships, while Bumper Bears Early Learning Centre at Kippa-Ring is looking after Monica two days a week so she can play with children her own age and learn English.
But Olena says the challenges continue, with the seven in Australia on tourist visas and unable to access help from Medicare or Centrelink and not eligible to work.
Sasha left behind a career as a regional sales manager for a Ukranian shoe manufacturer and Jana was a highly respected dance choreographer, while Kirial was forging his way as a talented young soccer player and Arina had been amassing her share of trophies as a dancer.
“They’ve gone from being very independent, earning a decent living…my uncle found accepting food parcels shattering.
“They now know their way around, but we only have one car between us.”
Accessing much needed counselling for the traumatised family is also a challenge because they speak very little English, only Ukrainian and Russian.
While local charities have given food parcels, funds are running out and Olena still needs to find – and fund – an immigration lawyer to plead the case for humanitarian visas.
To help with expenses, Olena has organised a fundraiser at the top of the Des Webb stand at Moreton Daily Stadium on Friday, May 27.
The evening includes a three-course meal and four-hour drinks package, guest speakers, an orchestra and dancers as well as an auction overseen by Andrew Reibelt from Image Property. Olena has her fingers crossed Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett will accept an invitation to attend.
Auction items include a fully catered Brisbane Broncos Corporate Box at Suncorp Stadium and limited or rare sports items, while prizes in the raffle include two Glasshouse Foundation Club Memberships to the Dolphins in 2023.
Tickets are $130 or $1250 for a table of 10. To book tickets to Olena’s Ukranian Family Fundraiser, click here.
To donate to Olena’s My Cause page, click here.
Today, June 6 marks 163 years since Queensland separated from New South Wales. It’s Queensland Day, a chance to celebrate who we are … but how much do you know about the place you call home? Test yourself against these fun facts…
Amanda Scott has always considered herself a crafty person, but this year she is stepping out of her comfort zone and entering her handmade jewellery into the Ekka for the first time.…
A not-for-profit organisation that has helped hundreds of struggling students and families is asking the community to dig deep and support their fundraising efforts.…