Ukranian-Australians say they feel helpless as their families relate their terror as Russia’s invasion blitzes the besieged nation.
Masha Syzonova moved from Ukraine to Sydney in 2015 to be with her husband, but almost all of her family is still living in the northern city of Kharkiv.
Since Thursday, Kharkiv has been targeted by Russian airstrikes
“I actually found out about everything at the same time from my sister as I read the news about the first explosions,” an emotional Ms Syzonova told The New Daily on Friday.
“She texted me at 5 o’clock saying that they were woken up by the explosions.”
One of the first photos to emerge during the invasion was taken not far from where she grew up.
Ms Syzonova’s elderly parents are now staying with friends on the other side of town, while other relatives are sheltering in the city’s deep subway system.
“They can’t flee because there are bombs everywhere,” she said.
“Nobody knows for sure what’s happening outside, unless they can see it from their window.”
Nadia O’Keefe, from Sydney, is worried for her daughter, who lives in the western city of Lviv with her Australian boyfriend.
Escape to Poland
“I received a phone call at two in the afternoon from my daughter who was in Ukraine, and I was shocked because I thought, ‘that’s around 2am in Ukraine’,” Ms O’Keefe told TND.
Lviv is close to Poland and was considered relatively safe thanks to its western location.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy even discussed plans to relocate from the capital to Lviv if Russia were to invade.
With planes down, the young couple made the decision at 4am to drive across the border to Poland.
A day later, the city heard air raid sirens for the first time since WWII.
“I feel devastated for my daughter, I feel devastated for Ukrainians and for the 44 million people that are in that country that will have to deal with war, and possibly family members coming back injured,” Ms O’Keefe said.
Ms O’Keefe, who is active in Ukraninan-Australian organisations, said the country is no stranger to war.
One side of the family was taken by the Nazis to Germany, while the other side fled Soviet forces. Her grandparents fled to Australia after WWII.
More recently, in 2014, Russian-backed rebels launched a campaign in the Donbass region, capturing the cities of Donestk and Luhansk.
Ms Syzonova has a sister who lives in Luhansk Oblast, not far from the territory occupied by Russian-backed rebels.
“Ukrainians were used to that being a backdrop to their life, they knew that there were thousands who had died and they knew people who would have known people who had died,” Ms O’Keefe said.
“They were remaining calm, they were remaining steadfast in their determination to resist,” she said.
“But yesterday was was truly horrifying for Ukrainians, and a true realisation that Putin could mobilise to invade them.”
Her extended family in Lviv has been preparing for an invasion over the past week, but from Australia she can only watch.
Ms Syzonova agreed: “I’m terrified. We’re incapable of doing anything.”
According to the 2011 census, more than 13,000 Australians were born in Ukraine, with a further 38,000 claiming Ukrainian ancestry.
In a joint statement, Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government was working to help Ukranians coming to Australia, as well as Australians currently in Ukraine.
“All Ukrainian nationals in Australia with a visa that is due to expire up to 30 June, will be given an automatic extension for six months,” they said.
“Outstanding visa applications from Ukrainian citizens, which number approximately 430, will be prioritised and fast tracked for a decision by immigration officials, as soon as possible.”