Getting one person safely out of the Ukraine war zone is a challenge – let alone seven.
But Olena Torchinska and her brother Nick did just that, rescuing seven family members and bringing them to live on the Redcliffe Peninsula.
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, Nick and Olena were desperately raising money and hatching a plan to help them escape.
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.
Thanks to the generosity of family, friends and the Redcliffe community who helped pay for flights, seven of the nine members made it to Australia.
Sasha and Jana’s husbands remain in their homeland, conscripted by the Ukraine government to help fight in the war.
About the Torchinskas
Olena and Nick’s mission 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 explained earlier this year.
“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 Peninsula local 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 said 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.
Arina and Kiril, who are studying at Southern Cross Catholic College at Scarborough on scholarships, have been embraced by the college community.
“They love going to school and they love Australia,” Olena says.
“Kiril and Arina tell me they love their teacher and everyone has been really lovely and helpful. They only come home wishing they could understand and speak English better to better communicate with friends but they’re working on it.
“Maths is their favourite because they’re quite good at it and don’t need to know too much English.
“They have even been helping other students in maths and as students use laptops at Southern Cross College, they can use Google Translate to communicate in class.”
Sasha left behind a career as a regional sales manager for a Ukranian shoe manufacturer and Jana was a highly respected dance choreographer, while Kiril was forging his way as a talented young soccer player and Arina had been amassing her share of trophies as a dancer.
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