Perth uniting for Ukraine


Anneke de Boer

When the Tretiakovs left their home in Ukraine, they didn’t know they wouldn’t return home.

Andrii Tretiakov and his wife Natalia Tretiakov arrived in Perth with nothing more than three suitcases and a guitar. The couple has never been further from their home in Ukraine. 12,000 kilometres to be exact. They checked.

Andrii and Natalia are musicians by trade. When they left Ukraine earlier this year to complete a short contract at a hotel in the Maldives, they did not know they wouldn’t return home. Andrii says the last two weeks there were the hardest.

“You go on stage, and all the time you must smile. You perform happy songs, but your mind is in Ukraine, with your family and with every issue back in your homeland.

“I mean, this job as a musician, it’s not like a regular job. It’s hard when you feel bad, it’s very hard to perform.”

Soon after Russia’s invasion, it became clear that they would not be able to go home. Now they find themselves displaced in Perth.

The Tretiakovs are musicians by trade from a small town in the Poltava region of Ukraine.

By early May 2022, more than 6.4 million Ukrainians had fled the country since Russia invaded according to UNHCR. Arriving on the shores of Australia are thousands of these displaced Ukrainians. Over 3,200 have landed to date, some with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and the hope of safety in their hearts. Their circumstances have touched the hearts of many Westerns Australians who are rallying together and doing what they can to support.

The Tretiakovs have stayed with relatives since arriving in March, but with more fleeing family arriving, they were forced to find other accommodation. They now stay in temporary accommodation provided by the Red Cross.

The couple says they have been “heart touched” by the kindness of Australians.

Vicky Young is among those doing what they can to support Ukrainians in need.

She along with friends Jan Lawsey and Jodie Timms, started Dandelions WA in October last year to help those in need who slip through the cracks.

“There are a lot of charities who help with a specific need in the community, like foster children or the homeless. We’ll help anybody. So, all those people that aren’t covered by those other charities, we will pick up the pieces and support everybody.”

A Dandelions WA volunteer works with Vicky Young (right) packing Kindness Kits for displaced Ukrainians. (Anneke de Boer)

Working out of a garage-style storage room in Wangara, the charity makes what they call “Kindness Kits”. They fill handbags and backpacks with anything from clothes and blankets to toiletries and towels.

In the short time Dandelions has been around, the volunteers have helped the victims of domestic violence, bushfires, and the recent cyclone in Kalbarri.

When they found out that displaced Ukrainians had arrived in Perth, they kicked into gear.

“We thought well, there’s lots of people doing a lot of things. What can we offer to make people feel welcome, accepted, and cosy? And that’s when we came up with Pyjama Packs.”

“The packs are filled with brand new flannelette jammies, slippers, bed socks, underwear, toiletries. For the kid’s bedtime backpacks, we also put in activities and books.”

Beyond giving essential supplies to people who might struggle to afford them, Young says that Dandelions WA aims to give people their dignity and respect back.

“That’s all we’re trying to provide. A little bit of respect and dignity. We can’t fix your life. Can’t give you a home.”

Most people get in touch with Dandelions through Facebook when they or someone they know is in need.

“Everybody asks, do you need to see my passport? Do you need to see my visa? We don’t ask for anything. We don’t ask people to prove that they need help. We never have. Contact us, and we’ll help.”

Andrii and Natalia Tretiakov received a Kindness Kit from Dandelions. (Anneke de Boer)

 So far Dandelions WA has helped more than 100 displaced families with their Kindness Kits. Among them are the Tretiakovs. The couple say they really appreciated the help from Dandelions WA.

“It will help us a lot. We are very happy with any assistance.”

Young says that Dandelions has received more thanks from the Ukrainian Community than from anybody else they have assisted.

“It’s so little we are giving considering their situation, but they are so grateful,” she says.

“With everything that these people are going through, they still find the time to write a message and say thank you.”

“The Ukrainian community have just touched our hearts, so we keep refreshing that Facebook page and putting out new messages.”

Wrapping them with love

When Dandelions WA reached out to Sandy Heales, the coordinator at WA’s branch of Sewing for Charity, she jumped at the chance to help displaced Ukrainians.

“I put the idea to our group and the response was unanimous that, yes we’ve got to do this.”

The ladies at Sewing for Charity make everything from teddy bears and pyjamas to bibs and bags.

“If it can be sewn, we sew it. It’s as simple as that.”

Teddy bears hand made by Sewing for Charity WA, packed and ready in a ‘Kindness Kit’. (Vicky Young)

The group works in partnership with Dandelions WA to distribute the handmade items to the displaced Ukrainians who might be in need.

“They’re a beautiful group of ladies and their work is meticulous. It is just beautiful,” Young says.

For the displaced Ukrainians, Heales and her team have carefully handmade many quilts, something Heales says she hopes will make them know that someone does care.

“When we give a quilt it’s almost like we are wrapping them with love. That’s what we want them to feel.”

“We would like to give some comfort to the Ukrainians and make them feel welcome.”

Irina Bradley, Ollia Hurina, Viktoriia Sliusenko all attended the Mirrabooka Square event. (Anneke de Boer)

Hundreds of displaced Ukrainians have arrived in Perth since the start of the war in Ukraine. Some come to stay with family, some with strangers, some with nowhere to stay at all. But all come to escape the danger of the conflict.

Viktoria Sliusenko is a Perth local originally from Ukraine. She has been part of the local Ukrainian community for years but when the conflict broke out, she saw a need beyond organising community events.

Inspired by ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook groups she started her own group, Helping displaced Ukrainians in Perth.

“I knew from experience with ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook groups that people often have things they might not need and are happy to give away,” Sliusenko says.

The group serves as a platform to connect those who can give to those in need. Offers have come in the form of golf clubs, bicycles, fruit, accommodation, jobs, furniture and the list is endless.

“It’s a point where people can search, ask for information and share information as well,” Sliusenko says.

Members share information about anything from visas and jobs to healthcare and accommodation.

“I think, basically, the information is everything in this world and being able to find the most of it in one place is really helpful,” Sliusenko says.

The group has grown quickly and now has over 700 members.

“When I organised this page, my intention wasn’t to control anything, just to get people together,” she explains.

Unity through sport

Beyond being an exchange platform, the group brings the community together. A recent post on the page announced an initiative by the Dalkeith Nedlands Football Club to encourage displaced Ukrainian children to learn AFL.

The club’s president, Scott Bailey explains he hopes to make the Ukrainian children feel welcome through sport.

“The great thing about sport is that it doesn’t really matter where you’re from. As long as you’re dressed in the jumper with the shoes on and you’re having a run around.”

“We give them a free uniform and pay their registration so they can come and learn to play Aussie rules.”

We stand united for Ukraine

The Facebook page also brings the community together through events. One of the largest gatherings advertised on the platform was the ‘We stand united for Ukraine’ event held at The Square Mirrabooka.

The event was organised by the Falkner property in partnership with the Ukrainian Association of Western Australia. (Anneke de Boer)

What is usually a bustling shopping centre was transformed into an atmospheric auditorium for an afternoon. Sunflowers, the Ukrainian national flower, could be seen adorning the railings. The flower, which has become a symbol of solidarity was scattered throughout the crowd.

The sunflowers along with food and Ukrainian flag merchandise were sold with proceeds directed to the Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal.

The Square Mirrabooka’s centre manager Allana Edwards was involved in making the event happen.

Allana Edwards helped organise the event, she says she hopes that the displaced Ukrainians feel welcome in Perth. (Anneke de Boer)

Ms Edwards says the event was about supporting the displaced families.

“What these families are going through is difficult. This is nothing. This is just welcoming them to the community, and involving them in the community,” she says.

The audience was treated to traditional Ukrainian songs and Cossack dancers, with the passion of performers palpable.

Among the performers was displaced Ukrainian, Ollia Hurina. She arrived in Perth just two months prior with only a backpack in hand. With a choir, she performed a moving Ukrainian song.

There were tears in the eyes of onlookers as music, song and dance displayed the Ukrainian culture with all its beauty. Among the crowds were over 100 displaced families including Andrii and Natalia Tretiakov. To them, it felt like a bit of home.

“My eyes were wet when I watched it. They had this beautiful traditional Ukrainian dancing.  It was heart touching to see our culture so far from home.”

“I checked in Google Maps. We are now 12,000 kilometres from home. We have never been so far. And when you see those beautiful people dressed in our traditional clothing, and singing and dancing, it means a lot for us. You feel like a piece of your homeland is here in Australia.”

“I can’t find the words to describe, how happy and how grateful we are.”