“It’s almost like life has stopped”: Ukrainians view devastation of home from Geelong
BEFORE February, Geelong’s Viktoriya Skoryk hadn’t seen her mother Mila in more than two years, mostly because she lived in Ukraine and was prevented from coming to Australia due to the closed borders.
Welcoming her mother for a long overdue holiday at the start of that month, neither believed the visit would turn into a permanent stay, but weeks later they became glued to television and social media watching reports of Russia’s invasion of their homeland.
“It’s almost like the life has stopped,” Viktoriya explained.
“The first couple of weeks we didn’t sleep, talking to friends non-stop, thinking ‘okay, come on, it’ll be over in a few weeks’. But then we started to see the devastation.”
Viktoriya is originally from Mariupol, a major Ukrainian port city in the countries south east that recently fell to Russian forces after months of heavy fighting that’s left it in ruins.
“I went to school and grew up there, my family lived there,” she said of her earlier years in the city, prior to emigrating to Australia years ago.
Up until the war, her family still lived there, but not anymore.
“Mum lived closed to the city centre… almost every shot we were seeing on TV and social media from city centre showed Mum’s house.
“First it was standing, then it had been hit by a rocket, then it was demolished.
“Mum came to Australia with one suitcase, now she doesn’t have anything left; it’s devastating.
“My brother was building a new business there, Dad was working, Mum had recently retired.
“My brother and dad are still in Ukraine, but escaped to the west around March 15.
“It was difficult to get out, they’d been sitting in bomb shelters for weeks until they finally found enough gas to leave the city.”
Her 37-year-old brother has since found out he has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy treatment – not easy in a country under constant attack, coupled with the loss of almost all his assets and income.
Viktoriya and her mother find themselves juggling the dichotomy of feeling blessed to be in Australia where they’re leading relatively calm lives, with food and no bombs falling, while watching their homeland be blown apart.
“Some of our friends have died.
“She (Mum) cannot be there with them, it’s not the same talking remotely, it’s very challenging.
“Having to juggle these two worlds on a daily basis is extremely exhausting, it’s draining. You think how can you be so happy when people are dying in their hundreds?
“Everyone is getting war fatigue, refugee fatigue, but if you go back to where these people are coming from, these people were happy, had good lives, now they have nothing.
“Those people who are observing cannot afford to be fatigued, that’s a tough one for all of us who are dealing with this.”
There is comfort for the pair, the Geelong community that already boasts thousands of Ukrainian emigres who previously fled Europe after World War II are stepping up.
“They’ve been beyond supportive, they’ve found a place for mum to live, she’d been staying with us.
“The amount of garage sales, dinners, people helping each other, it’s great.
“As you can imagine, if you’re trying to rent a house in a tough market, particularly as a refugee with limited funds, it’s tough. But someone is doing that for her… it’s a big deal.”
Other communities are also helping – an coming ticketed “Stand By Ukraine” five-course dinner has been organised by Geelong’s Polish Community Association and its president Henry Szkuta at Breakwater’s White Eagle House.
The Polish-Ukrainian Community Fundraising Committee event on July 30 will contribute funds to those affected by the war.
Tickets can be purchased by searching for “Stand by Ukraine Fundraising Dinner” at trybooking.com