These Ukrainian refugees found a home in coastal New South Wales after fleeing their war-torn home
For the first two decades of her life, Ukraine was the only home Alina Melnyk knew.
The 20-year-old university student grew up in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and always loved her active and social life alongside her friends, family and partner.
Ms Melnyk said she would always have “plans for the next day and the next week” and never imagined that one day she would have to leave.
“I never wanted to live in another city or country,” she said.
Then almost one year ago, when Russia invaded Ukraine, her whole world was turned upside down.
For two weeks Ms Melnyk, her mother, grandmother and up to 30 other neighbours sheltered in the basement of their apartment block in the now war-torn Kyiv.
During that time, she said they could hear bombs nearby and one of the men sheltering with them was found dead outside their building after trying to source more supplies.
Ms Melnyk said living in Ukraine became so “scary”, her mother and grandmother begged her to leave and move to a safer country.
“It was very bad,” she said.
So, at just 19 years old, she was granted a humanitarian visa and moved across the globe to Sydney before deciding to settle in Port Macquarie where her mother’s friend lived.
“Without [my family] it’s very hard. Because I’ve never left them for a long time,” she said.
Initially, Ms Melnyk said she was “a little bit depressed” being in a small, foreign town while continuing her university studies at night.
“All my people were in Ukraine and in Ukraine I had an active life every day,” she said.
However, when Ms Melnyk found casual work at two local cafes she started to make friends and things changed for the better.
“Life doesn’t stop. It’s sad but it doesn’t stop.”
“I enjoy it because the customers know me now and all the staff are very supportive,” she said.
Ms Melnyk said she sends money back to her family in Ukraine and tries to speak with her mother and grandmother every day.
“I enjoy my life now, but every minute, every second and every hour I think about Ukraine because Ukraine is in my heart.”
“Now I have two sides. On one side I really enjoy Australia and really enjoy Australian people, but on the other side it’s hard because of the long distance,” she said.
Community bands together
Ms Melnyk’s colleagues organised a party to unite the small group of Ukrainian refugees who moved to Port Macquarie after the war broke out.
Among those were Olga Mashliatin and her sons Sviatoslav, 14, and Maksym, nine.
Ms Mashliatin’s young family fled Ukraine in March after a bomb exploded near their apartment and her husband urged them to leave.
After initially staying in Poland, the trio chose to move to Australia in April.
“We are safe here in Port Macquarie. We live in a nice house. My children go to school,” Ms Mashliatin said.
Local resident Greg Freeman and his wife helped the family when they arrived.
“My wife, through the refugee support group, heard there had been a family that had arrived in Port Macquarie,” Mr Freeman said.
“We made direct contact and since then have helped with a rental property and now have been involved with most parts of their lives because understanding English and doing day-to-day things has been a challenge,” he said.
The Port Macquarie community raised over $10,000 for Ms Mashliatin and her boys through a GoFundMe fundraiser set up by Mr Freeman.
It has allowed her to buy a car and learn to drive. The money has also gone towards swimming lessons and English language tuition.
“I attend English classes at TAFE and also have private English lessons twice a week … I have passed my road test and am now starting to learn practical driving skills on Australian roads,” Ms Mashliatin said.
“This fundraiser is a realisation for me that the people who sent money to give us financial aid actually sympathise with my country in this terrible war.”