As Ukrainian refugees flee to Perth, the community comes together to provide beds, funds and much-needed support

Bestinau got that-

While most teens catch up with friends or play sports, 15-year-old Perth student April Narustrang is busy raising thousands of dollars for airfare and navigating immigration to help a Ukrainian family get to Western Australia.

More than 3.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the start of the conflict, according to the UNHCR. A month after Russia invaded, the total number of people killed in the conflict can only be estimated.

The UN estimates that nearly 1,000 civilians have been killed in the war so far, although the actual number is likely to be much higher, with documented cases of civilians being shot in the street.

Despite the 13,000 kilometers physical distance from the war, April is just one of many people in Perth who have been touched by human suffering and have joined forces to show their support for refugees fleeing their homelands for safety.

April Narustrang spends her school days helping a Ukrainian family get to Perth.ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood

“Where would they go?”

At the start of the year, the only concern in April Narustrang’s head was getting through Year 11.

Now her focus is on helping Ukrainian refugees.

The 15-year-old was inspired to help after learning that her mother was donating to various charities. Now she uses every spare minute she has to search for information on visas, immigration, passports, G2G passes and vaccination requirements to enter Western Australia.

“With millions of people pouring into neighboring countries, what’s going to happen after the week of food those donations can give them?” she said.

“So I looked to see if we could get them here [and] I discovered that there are ways… so I started figuring out how to contact a family, how they could contact us, how to get all the documents, flights, money, etc.

April sits on a chair outside and looks at her laptop screen as she types.
April hopes to help more families flee Ukraine for a better life.ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood

She soon came into contact with a Ukrainian woman, Ilyana, who had to evacuate to Bucharest along with her eight-year-old daughter Zlata after their home in Irpin, a small town about 20 km northwest of Kiev, was destroyed.

“Ilyana had worked 15 years to save up for an apartment… they lived there for six months, and then they had to leave everything behind,” April said.

“She just left everything. The car had to be left behind, the father is still there, and they had a little cat and they had to leave that one too.”

On a brown dining table are several items, including toys, books and toiletries.
Dozens of people responded to April’s call for donations on Facebook.Delivered: April Narustrang

April successfully secured tourist visas for Ilyana and Zlata, arranged free lodging, and raised nearly $7,000 to purchase airline tickets to take them to Perth.

But April has remained humble about her work, instead praising her community as the real heroes.

“There have been so many people who have volunteered their time translating, offering schools that could work for the languages, asking if they need beds, people dropping off bikes, scooters and helmets.

Once Iliana and Zlata settle in Perth next month, April will continue to help others in need.

‘They sympathize with the people’

Roma Popadynec’s parents came to Australia in 1949, after World War II, as displaced persons.

She grew up hearing about the hardships and challenges they faced as they tried to rebuild their lives in a new country.

Now she is leading the operation to ensure that the new wave of Ukrainian refugees does not suffer the same fate.

Roma Popadynec ​​smiles at the camera in front of a podium with donations on it.
Roma Popadynec ​​is grateful for the support of the Perth community.ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood

“We get daily numbers of displaced people who will come in in the coming weeks or months, and we assign them hosts and arrange accommodation,” she said.

“We’ve probably had about 140 families in WA, from Port Hedland to Mandurah, who asked if they could help by hosting.”

While she waited for the refugees to arrive, Ms Popadynec ​​decided to post for donations in her community in Perth’s western suburbs.

“We’ve had toys, we’ve had diapers, we’ve had bags of children’s clothes, we’ve had toiletries, hair accessories, shampoo… everything you need when you just come from a war-torn country. A country with only a bag.

A table is filled with donations including shoes, hats, toys and books.
Communities across Perth have donated clothes and toys to Ukrainian families.ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood

Speaking of her amazing community, Mrs. Popadynec ​​fought back her tears.

“I had a lovely lady come over and say, ‘I can’t give you anything, but here’s $100, please buy them something.’

“They don’t know me… [but] they feel for Ukraine, and they feel for the people of Ukraine, and they see the injustice that is being done there and they want to support us in any way they can.”

‘I can not do anything’

With a spare bedroom and free time on her hands, Perth-based Irina Bradley has made it her mission to make a difference in the lives of families desperate to escape the crisis.

Born in Latvia, Mrs. Bradley has lived in the southern suburbs of the city for about nine years with her husband and two sons.

But her small family of four is expected to grow next month with the arrival of Vera and her two children from Odessa.

Irina Bradley smiles at the camera while wearing glasses in front of her house.
Irina Bradley has offered the spare room in her house to a family fleeing Ukraine.ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood

After realizing that there was a lack of resources for Ukrainian refugees planning to come to Australia, Ms Bradley took it upon herself to provide them with the necessary information.

“A lot of them ask, ‘Can we come to Australia? Does Australia really take refugees? Is there help?'” she said.

Ms. Bradley spends about eight hours a day doing what she calls “pro bono work” with the aim of “helping some people survive or escape.”

“So I give them what to do, what visa to apply for, how many are the tickets, what the housing situation is like.”

After learning that Vera could not afford to apply for a visa for her children, Oleg and Ksenia, Mrs. Bradley turned to her trusting community.

“Immediately we got the money donated, and I paid for the visas for the children,” she said.

Ms Bradley hopes the community will continue to help in every way possible.

“I’d say for us $5 is one coffee, but for them $5 is a meal for a large family, so if we can spare something it will make a huge difference to them.”

‘We need to feel connected as individuals’

The head of the Perth Ukrainian Cossack dance group Simone Litwin, coming from a family of dancers, is passionate about helping children, including her three sons, to embrace their culture and traditions.

Simone Litwin smiles at the camera with her fists on her hips and traditional Ukrainian clothes.
Simone Litwin is the director of the Perth Ukrainian Cossack Dancers.Delivered: Simone Litwin

“We want to be able to help the new children and families who arrive as displaced persons and we want to involve them in our community and make them feel like a home away from home,” she said.

“We really feel it for our children because it’s another generation that has just been wiped out because of Russia’s aggression.”

Ms. Litwin has gathered in front of the community center to offer English classes to the newcomers, and her hard work has paid off.

“It’s very important for us to feel connected as individuals…and for families and children to thrive and aspire, they really need this avenue that we offer in the hall,” she said.

“They need this to be able to connect with other people, to connect to services and to build their self-esteem and sense of belonging…that’s the most important thing.”

A young boy and girl dressed in traditional Ukrainian clothes and looking away from the camera.
Dozens of Ukrainian children in Perth visit the Ukrainian Catholic Hall to show their traditional dance.ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood

She is also part of a team of medical providers, counselors, psychologists and educators, who are ready to provide the necessary services.

Ms Litwin said the best way for the Perth community to support refugees from Ukraine is to “accept and welcome”.

“In the interest of the children and the families, it’s really important that we embrace all of our people who come here,” she said.

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