Team Ukraine is a group of local community members (families, friends, anyone that lives in the central west) including Ukrainian families that have moved here, who are working together to create safe housing and support for those that have moved to Australia from Ukraine and want to live in the central west.
Pip, a teacher at JSCHS and mother of four, is one of the hard-working organisers behind the group who felt a strong need to help victims when the Russo-Ukrainian war escalated on 24 February this year. “I read an article in The Guardian with a link asking for help with Ukrainian families coming to Australia, and shared it with some colleague-friends at work.
We were running out of ideas after putting-up several families who’d moved out here, with more wanting to come, so we spoke with Father Greg at the Orange (Catholic) Parish who offered us the Molong Convent for housing. That was the game changer. Then, all of sudden we had a lot of people wanting to help so we started using WhatsApp to communicate what is going on, for sharing good news and planning the renovation.”
Many people have since come on board to help raise awareness of this cause and to create a safe and sustainable community. Molong stalwart Mary Mulhall (known as Big Ma) helped make many connections through her vast networks. Convent volunteers also love the tasty daily meals she provides – especially the exceptional cream puffs – at the working bees. Another catalyst was the ABC’s 7:30 Report coverage of the project, leading to offers of help from all corners.
The community has opened its arms
Pip is grateful that there are so many key players now including all the principals of the local schools chipping in, plus countless businesses throughout Molong, Orange, Cargo, Blayney, Millthorpe and across NSW who have helped. The outpouring such as Millthorpe Public students donating 30+ framed paintings for the convent is typical of the generosity. Donations of household items, furniture, clothing, transport, jobs and more have come from across the community. Locally, Anni Gallagher (OCC) and Rural Australians for Refugees have been invaluable connecting the Ukrainians coming here to services, meaning the families can step out of the dark and assimilate.
When the dozens of volunteer tradies and community friends have finished the Molong convent and garden renovation it will house three large families. Currently eight families are being hosted, or have moved into accommodation with furnishings, clothes, kitchen and toy donations from the community. And while there is great need to help more, those already here are filling long-vacant jobs.
Team Ukraine’s GoFundMe page has helped many to pledge work and supplies as well as financial support, with Pip overjoyed at this serendipitous explosion of goodwill.
Meeting humanitarian need
She also explained how the visa situation is difficult. “Many of the Ukrainians who have come to Australia applied for a temporary-stay humanitarian visa (Visa 786) when the war broke out. Most of the families got that, however on 31 July the Australian government stopped issuing the visa. That’s causing a problem as there are still people in Ukraine who need it to move to Australia and everyone here is wanting to do more. Now those coming out are getting holiday visas, and then they try to get a Protection, Bridging or Sponsor visa.”
The adoption of Ukrainian families in the central west is due to Pip’s mutual contact with the Ukrainian community in Sydney, Olha Lyeskakova. She’s a permanent resident of Ukrainian background who’s helped over 4000 refugees locally, and Pip contacted her through the Guardian link. “Olha firstly helped Alex find a good job at PJL Group in Orange then reached out to say she’s got this family, and, they were the first family to come to Orange in May. They were donated a car, he has a fabulous job, they got our support and all that went viral on our Ukrainian Facebook page, and everyone thought WOW.”
Welcome new beginnings and friends
For recently arrived Alex and Vika and their two young boys, from Dnipro, their move from Sydney to the central west took two months. Alex said the move here has made them very happy. “My experience with this group and the Molong Convent renovation has been very good because it’s been good for my family; good childcare, good job, good teachers, good friends. Hopefully this is permanent. It is all different to what we have in Ukraine, even the food, but we like finding what you have especially as Vika likes cooking. And we like Molong and I have stability from a good job and a home. Vika is learning English and wants to run her own seamstress business. We are very happy to be here.”
Pip says it is well worth the effort and that Alex and Vika and the other families are exceptional people. “Everything we have offered they have taken with gratitude and ambition. Alex has already been promoted at his job and has seized every opportunity and worked really hard, which in return it means people are giving him more. They are so successful because of their courage. We hope we can do the same for others, too.”
Molong Convent Opening: 6 November, 10:00 am
How you can help Team Ukraine: GoFundMe
How can Australians help the people of Ukraine: The Guardian