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Ukrainian refugee rebuilding her life

4 December 20230 comments

A Ukrainian refugee who fled her homeland as the Russians pressed home their invasion has started to rebuild her life in Melbourne.

Asiiat Aliieva is effectively a single mother, with her husband Alexander still in Ukraine. But she is working full-time, her five-year-old son is in school and she has made friends and connections in her local community.

Like many Melbournians, she has struggled to find a house to rent but she has found temporary home with a local Australian family.

“I came to Australia with my son Damir in March 2022, a month after the Russians invaded Ukraine,” Asiiat said.

“At first I waited, thinking it was kind of a joke and the war would be over soon. But then we realised it wasn’t going to end and I knew I had to look after my son and get him to safety.

“My sister has lived in Melbourne for some years so and she helped us to get visas.

“We went to Poland, them Turkey and Singapore and finally we arrived in Melbourne after three days of travelling.

“My husband is still in Kyiv. He lost his job because of the war and now he is driving a taxi.”

Asiiat says that life is difficult for people in Ukraine.

“Everything is very expensive and getting worse. My husband has to drive taxi to earn money for food. A lot of people are struggling with life and with their mental health,” she said.

Asiiat says the month she spent in Ukraine after the war began was “terrible”.

“We woke at 5am with sound of bombing. At first we didn’t understand what was happening. Then my husband said ‘I think the war has started’,” she said.

Like thousands of other Ukrainians, Asiiat and Alexander took Damir and fled to a village in the countryside.

“We spent five hours in traffic… with bombs falling behind us… It was the first time I had seen my husband afraid. He was scared something would happen to our son.”

Damir was three-years-old at the time and Asiiat says her decision to leave Ukraine was vindicated by what has happened in Ukraine since then.

“I’ve heard so many terrible stories. A friend, who I worked with, and her husband and son moved out of their apartment just before the Russians occupied their area,” she said.

“The soldiers destroyed the apartments and stole everything. They left a piece of paper on which they said ‘sorry – we didn’t want to do this but we had to’.

“Another friend was taken by the Russian military and held underground for days with no food or water.

“When fighting broke out she was able to escape but it was frightening.

“Another family was taken by the Russians and the husband was killed in front of his wife and son.

“At the time the Russians were saying they would do this to every family.

“After that I thought ‘how could I live’ if something like that happened to us or if Damir was hurt or killed. I realised I must take my son to safety.”

On arriving in Melbourne, Asiiat and Damir spent two months living with her sister before moving into short-term refugee accommodation provided by settlement agency AMES Australia.

The pair also connected with the local Ukrainian community which also provided support and Asiiat found casual work in retail.

“I tried to find my own apartment but it was very difficult. I almost secured one but I was told I was rejected because I had a small child,” she said.

Through the Ukrainian community, Asiiat met an Australian family who offered them accommodation.

“Lyn and her son Ben have been wonderful to us. They have been very welcoming. And Ben is even learning Ukrainian,” she said.

Asiiat said her son struggled for a time after arriving in Australia.

“For the first few moths Damir could not speak any English. He wanted to play with other kids but struggled to make connections. “He said: ‘what’s wrong with me’.

“But after three months in kinder he was speaking the language and now has better English than me,” Asiiat said.

Now 5, Damir is attending primary school.

Asiiat said Damir at first could not understand why he could not see his father.

“I tried to explain things to him about the war in Ukraine he didn’t believe me and he called me liar,” she said.

“When I showed him pictures of the war damage, he understood. But he misses his father – they were very close and would go fishing together.”

Asiiat says her time away from Ukraine has given her a chance to think about her life and her country.

“Our situation has made me think about so many things. There are so many uncertainties. What will happen in Ukraine? How will all of our children be affected?” she said.

“And for Ukrainians, the one important question is what will a new life and new society look like after the war?

“And when you see what is happening in Palestine, it makes you realise we need people to live and love and not create war and hatred. We need to change minds and build a positive new world.”

Asiiat the uncertainties include her own future and visa status.

“We have met so many kind, friendly amazing people here in Melbourne. It has helped us feel better about our situation and take away some of the stress,” she said.

“If I had the chance I would bring my husband here but men cannot leave Ukraine at the moment.

“And we are not sure what will happen with our visas which expire at the end of 2025.

“We don’t know what will happen after that and many people are living with that stress. It feels like we are living between the land and the sky.”

Asiiat says most Ukrainians who came to Australia because of Russia’s attack, want to stay.

She has started to put down roots herself and is now working full-time in a CBD beauty salon.

But the shift-work make looking for an apartment and picking up Damir from school difficult.

“I get support from Lyn and from my sister. We support each other,” Asiiat said.

Despite her troubles, Asiiat says she loves life in Australia and Damir is making friends.

“We recently went on a 12 km hike in the mountains with the Ukrainian community organisation. I was worried about Damir but he loved it and the scenery was beautiful.

“I hope there will be a change for the better in my country so my husband will be able to come and we will travel and see more of Australia,” Asiiat said.