Tears and fears as life goes on

OLESIA Trukhanska’s family back home in the Ukraine is surviving, but the phone conversations between New Norfolk and Kiev revolve around the frequent sirens, forewarnings of Russian shells, or worse, coming towards the Ukrainian capital.

“I have relatives in Odesa who narrowly escaped injury when a blast blew out the windows of their home,” says Olesia. And she’s lost a friend who went to fight. They’d spent a good deal of time rafting and doing other sports together. But mostly it comes down to the daily conversation Olesia has with her mum, who remains back in Kiev, her own home until she came to the Derwent Valley in March this year. Mother and daughter cry together over the destruction that has been, their fears of worse to come.

“Kiev is now more safe,” she says, without the threat of occupation by Russian forces. “It seems that morale is good, even strong. The Ukrainian people are ready to fight. But how long the war will last, how it will end, and whether there will be a place to return to at all, we don’t know.”

This is uppermost in her mind because Dmytro is now 18, the age at which he’d be required to join the military in the Ukraine. Her son says he has not yet lost friends in a war that, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has killed at least 5000 Ukrainian civilians since hostilities began in February. “Should I go back?” Dmytro wonders aloud.

In part through a generous – and anonymous – cash donation from an individual in New Norfolk, he’s now equipped with a top-of-the-range computer and has picked up animation work for some UTAS remote learning classes. His sister, Margo, is at school in New Norfolk, and in the way of kids everywhere, is making plenty of friends. She’s teaching them a little Ukrainian while they work on her use of the English language.

Olesia, the woman whose determination brought her family out of the chaos of war in Ukraine and into the safety of the Derwent Valley, is also working on her language skills. English and the written word as it applies to tax law is core to her accountancy work at Bentleys in New Norfolk where she now works fulltime. “They are enormously generous, encouraging me, giving me the time I need for study.”

She’s been working on the simple stuff, like reconciliation, finalisation and accounts. This is a woman who sets a high bar for herself, working five days while studying to improve her skillset for the job ahead. Her lawyer husband, Vasyl, has a temporary residence visa for Australia, but remains in the Ukraine at this point. For herself, Olesia already has her eyes on a university course. Maybe, she speculates, “I can go and do my dissertation, get my doctorate. “In three to five years, yes, I can do that,” she smiles to herself. And she’s had luck, she admits.

The visas for Australia arrived as the first Russian shells were slamming around her home in Kiev. Their escape by train into Poland was fraught with perils; even getting ready for the flight out to Australia relied on a stranger’s kindness. She has been met with the same kind of compassion here in Tasmania. It was a New Norfolk resident, Penelope Ann and her partner David Lander who offered a place to stay, even drove to pick up the family 200 kilometres away in Launceston. She’s had the support all along of an organisation with deep roots around the world, the Forest Stewardship Council.

Back home, Olesia worked as an office administrator and accountant for that same organisation. Most recently, another pair of hands reached out from the forestry industry. Learning that Olesia needed a car, Tammy Price – a Bruny Island resident who’s a financial manager in the private forest sector in Tasmania, turned over the keys of her own mother’s car.

“In forestry, we are one big industry, one big family,” says Tammy. “Turn in any direction, and there’s someone there to help. There are people out there who need this car more than my family needs the money,” she says. “And Olesia is one of those.” The car – now at home with this little family in New Norfolk, far from war-torn Ukraine from which they fled just weeks ago – is, aptly, a Ford Escape.