“Thank you, Australia, for giving me hope, a new home, and reminding me no matter where we come from, we can build a better tomorrow together.”
This is Maryna's story.
"I used to live in Kharkiv, a city in the northeastern part of Ukraine, close to the Russian border. I have two children, Alex, who is 17, and Lisa, 15, and I’m a single parent. I worked as a sales manager, and my life was happy and nice."
She will never forget the day her city was bombed, 24 February 2022. "We woke up at 5am with sounds of explosions … Nobody believed it could happen.
"The first thing I thought was, ‘How do I protect my children?’ Our apartment was impacted; windows smashed from fragments of the bombshells. We were forced to leave in fear for our safety. It was extremely scary."
With the airports closed, the only way out of the country was by car. So, Maryna found a driver who agreed to help the family escape. "He picked us up with our pets, a cat and a dog, and took us to Bulgaria. I chose Bulgaria because not many countries had opened their borders for Ukrainian refugees at that time, and I have relatives there as well.
"The trip was extremely scary, but staying in Ukraine was even scarier. It took four days because we often had to stop and wait for air raid alerts to end. On the Ukrainian border, there were a lot of cars and long queues. We waited many hours without water and food to leave Ukraine."
Maryna stayed in Bulgaria for four months. But she could not find a job, her daughter couldn't attend school, and she says it was hard to get any help.
"But I found a soccer academy in Germany that agreed to enrol my son Alex for free as a Ukrainian refugee. He’s now a student there. I’m very proud of him and not worried about his future. This is really a great opportunity for his career as a soccer player and for his life.
"Unfortunately, all my savings were quickly depleted on short-term housing and food. I was lost, but I had to find a way."
A childhood friend living in Perth told Maryna about the Australian Government’s support for Ukrainian refugees and encouraged her to come. "It was my last chance, and I bought a plane ticket to Perth.
"Because of a lack of funds, I made an incredibly hard decision to leave my daughter with her grandparents in Bulgaria and travel to Australia in search of work and safety for both of us. This decision played on every emotion a mother could possibly have, but I knew it was for the best."
Maryna arrived in Perth in July 2022. She was granted a humanitarian visa, for which she is so grateful.
"Red Cross helped me settle into Australia. The team was very supportive, caring and helpful."
We provided Maryna with temporary accommodation, helped her enrol in English classes, understand how things worked in Australia, and register for healthcare and other government services.
"Red Cross also helped me to find a full-time job with WorkCover WA, which I started last September."
Because of that job, so many good things have happened, and Maryna's new work colleagues have become like family to her. They helped her find a house to rent, bring her daughter to Australia and much more. "I’m grateful for every day I spend at work. The warmth and acceptance from my colleagues allowed me to rebuild my life, restore my hope, and dream of a brighter future.
"My deepest gratitude to Australian Red Cross, WorkCover WA and the Government. Thank you for your support, belief in the potential of refugees, and commitment to creating a society that thrives on diversity and inclusivity.
"I hope the actions of Red Cross and everyone who has helped me inspire others and serve as a shining example of what humanity can achieve when we extend a helping hand to those in need."
Australian Red Cross is part of the global Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, operating on the ground in 192 countries. Together, we help people displaced by armed conflict and other situations of violence. We work to meet humanitarian needs and improve the lives of people experiencing vulnerability.
Our teams support people in the countries they flee, the places they pass through, and the ones they arrive in. We support without judgement or conditions, helping those who need us most, no matter where they come from.
Find out how you can help create a more welcoming Australia for refugees, and others made vulnerable by migration.
Australian Red Cross supported Maryna through the Humanitarian Settlement Program. The program is delivered with the help of funding from the Department of Home Affairs.