365 days ago today, the life of every Australian-Ukrainian changed forever.
Russia’s war on Ukraine started 9 years ago in 2014 when Russian forces annexed Ukrainian Crimea and entered eastern Ukraine. But it was Russia’s full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022 that upended any semblance of normal life in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian-Australian community responded immediately. Calls were urgently placed to family members in Ukraine. Community members and supporters rallied on the streets in every Australian capital city. The Ukraine Crisis Appeal (UCA) — established in 2015 by the AFUO to provide emergency and humanitarian aid to those affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine — ramped up its activity and was overwhelmed by the generosity of Australians as donations began to pour in.
From March, we began to welcome some of the millions of displaced Ukrainians who had fled Ukraine, seeking safe haven. Most were women and children — their husbands and fathers had stayed behind to fight and defend Ukraine’s freedom. We organised ‘meet and greets’, arranged food and clothing donations, set up accommodation and jobs boards, and delivered information sessions on English language classes and skills requalification. Today, around 5,000 displaced Ukrainians have become treasured and loved new members of our community. We are constantly struck by their resilience, strength and hope.
The war continued to grind on. The genocidal nature of Russia’s campaign was fully revealed, as Russia sought to destroy the Ukrainian nation by murdering and torturing Ukrainians; bombing civilian residential areas and infrastructure with the intent of cutting off power, heat and light; inflicting over 60,000 registered war crimes since the start of the full-scale invasion; and forcibly removing around 14,000 children to Russia for ‘re-education’.
Within our community, our grief intensified when two displaced families lost their husbands and fathers, who died fighting on the front line. Four young children would now have to face life without their dad. Another displaced Ukrainian mother lost her son to fighting on the front line for Ukraine’s freedom. We were grateful the Government allowed her to return to Ukraine to do what no parent ever wants to do: bury their child.
Despite all the pain and heartache, we have also found moments of joy and gratitude. The Australian school children who have welcomed their new Ukrainian school mates with blue and yellow flags; the Australian companies like Harris Farm Markets, Woolworths, K-Mart, Optus, Officeworks, and Qantas who have helped us; and the many Australian friends and supporters who have stopped us in the street to express their disgust at what Russia is doing in Ukraine.
And so, as we go into the second year of this full-scale brutal war against Ukraine, we will continue to work with the Federal and State Governments to provide assistance to the displaced Ukrainians who have made Australia home, at least temporarily. We will continue to support Ukraine through our fundraising — over $8 million has already been raised through the UCA, and has helped us to build shelters in Irpin and Bucha for displaced people in Ukraine, and send food and medical supplies to the front line. We will continue to raise funds for displaced Ukrainians in Australia via our UCA Resettlement Fund. And we will always be grateful to the Australian Government for the humanitarian and military aid it has provided — and that it has re-committed today to assist Ukraine “for as long as it takes”.
But most importantly, we want to thank the Australian people for their support. For not succumbing to “Ukraine fatigue”. For understanding that what has happened to Ukraine is unfair and unjust. For standing up for democracy and a strong international order. And for recognising that Ukraine’s success is essential not just for Ukraine, but also for Australia and for peace, security and stability globally.
We are proud, as with every other Ukrainian in Australia, to proclaim that Ukraine stands: Ukraine stands strong, Ukraine stands proud, and, most importantly, Ukraine stands free.