WHEN 15-year-old Jasper came to his family with a request, he meant business. But he probably didn't think it would happen so fast.
Jasper had been watching the news and seen the heartbreak and devastation in Ukraine. He wanted to do something. Problem was, it was late April and his GP mother - "teal independent" Sophie Scamps - was in a battle to win a Federal seat, against a very safe sitting MP by the name of Jason Falinski.
Jasper's family - mum Sophie, dad Adam, kids Claude (17), Jasper (15) and Freddy (13), two cute Kelpie dogs and four glamorous chooks - live in a lovely house in Avalon in Sydney's northern beaches. It's by no means a mansion but the family had a storage area underneath - Jasper had been using some of it for his treadmill - that could potentially be turned into separate accommodation.
At Jasper's urging, that's what they did.
Just four days after registering to host any fleeing Ukrainians, Dr Sophie was contacted and informed that a family required their accommodation. Just four days after that, the family arrived: Oksana and Volodya Seniv and their children Yurii (15), Sophia (14) and Kristina, who turned six this week. Sadly, they'd had to leave their dog - Marley, a Labrador - behind.
They were picked up from the airport by Ukrainian volunteers and arrived completely "shellshocked", and also car-sick from the bendy drive, as Dr Sophie would later describe. But free.
"When they arrived, Volodya asked how long they could stay and I could see how relieved he was when I said as long as they needed," she said.
The northern beaches community went into overdrive. (As you can imagine, Dr Sophie was quite busy.) The area was cleaned out, bunks were donated, a spare car was loaned, schools and uniforms were found, English lessons procured. They even taught Kristina and her parents how to make the school lunches.
"I was able to take the family on at such a busy time because I knew the community network would do what they could to help them. And very quickly, they did," explained Dr Sophie.
Kristina is at Avalon Primary School - something that must be extremely difficult for a five-year-old with zero English, fresh off a plane from a war zone - but she says it is "OK, OK".
Her teenage siblings are at the Northern Sydney Intensive English Centre in the leafy grounds of St Ives High School, intensively studying English along with general schooling.
They are impressed by the "kindness" and "respect" of their teachers - things are less strict here than in Ukraine, according to Yurii. He told ACM he is one of two Ukrainians in his class, with 14 at the school. There were six when he arrived.
We spoke with the help Google Translate, with translation hiccups leading to raucous laughter around the kitchen table, which had been laden with delightful samples (which the polite Ukrainians decline but the Aussies devour) from Jasper's part-time bakery job. At one stage, I ask Volodya where most of his departing neighbours and friends ended up. "They are kissing in Germany" is the Google translated response. I don't think that's what he meant.
Is it difficult being so far away? I asked this family, who have lost their livelihood and their country and are now supplanted on the other side of the country. "It is not so difficult being so far away as we have a lot of information - such as Facebook, What'sApp and Telegram. I know all the news at home even more," said Volodya. "I also have friends fighting in the eastern part of Ukraine and I hear from them."
Russia is a dirty word. When Volodya was asked what languages he speaks, he listed Portuguese (where he lived two decades ago), a little bit of Polish and Ukrainian - and now some English - but not Russian. When I questioned this, he responded: "No good. We're not doing that anymore." It was a small insight into the mindset of a family hounded from their home by their former neighbours.
The Seniv family said both the official Ukrainian support network, and the local community, has been phenomenal.
"When the Australian government granted visas to Ukrainian refugees, we decided to learn more about Australia," Volodya said. "Australia is a democratic war-free country, distant and warm. It appealed. We appreciated their support. Europe is very different, especially Germany and France. These two countries blocked various aid to Ukraine and worked closely with Russia, meaning our unknown state will continue to exist."
They arrived from a small - population about 300 - village called Railiv, in the western part of Ukraine, just 70 kilometres from the Polish border - and 900 kilometres from the sea. But they told ACM the bush terrain there was similar to their new surrounds. Volodya said most of the local families ended up in Europe, mostly Poland and Italy, as well as Germany. They also know people who went to Canada.
"Poland is a very good friend and helped Ukraine - many, many people went there and they maximum helped," said Volodya. "Canada and Australia are similar in the way they supported Ukraine."
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He had owned a successful flooring business in Ukraine, where Oksana worked as an accountant. "When the war started, we lost our jobs and Australia allocated a certain number of visas for Ukrainians," Oksana said. "We bought tickets, filled out family documents and got here."
Their departure was difficult, and rushed. "We had to finish all the work in Ukraine to leave Ukraine, fill in a lot of documents for Warsaw, Poland - and then, later, Australia - and completely leave our lives behind," said Volodya. "In Ukraine, everything was familiar. There was work and we felt safe. Now it is different. The beginning of the war is very difficult."
Volodya has now helping out, labouring with a local builder, and friend and neighbour, Christian, who is also helping with his English. He says he is enjoying all the work, and the variety.
Dr Scamps' home is lovely, down one of the many bendy Avalon streets and overlooking bush. The Australian family all sleep upstairs and there's an open kitchen and living downstairs. Below that is a bottom floor that had been used for storage. The Ukrainian family now live here. They have planted a vegetable and herb garden outside the space, which comprises a double bedroom separated from the lounge/dining area by a bookcase, a bunk room for the girls and a private elevated sleeping nook for Yurii, as well as a small kitchen and bathroom.
The Seniv's arrived on April 21. Exactly one month later, Dr Sophie would win the seat of Mackellar. The Seniv's watched the victory at a local home and, later, couldn't stop congratulating her.
So it has been quite the adventure for both of the families. Although the Seniv's can live their own life on the bottom floor, they regularly catch up at the dining table for tea, now that life has calmed down slightly. And their regular Sunday walk to brunch has been expanded, with seating required for 10 rather than five.
"Seeing the horror on TV and also these other acts of kindness in other countries, it just made sense for us to do this," said Dr Sophie.
"What's there to lose? They are just ordinary people and families like ourselves and you'd hope that people would help you if you in that situation. It's unfathomable what has happened in their country, the absolute horror.
"But there are also other people in similar trouble - there are Afghan people still trying to get out for example."
Since the war on Ukraine began, more than 3000 Ukrainians have arrived in Australia. It hasn't been easy.
Like most, the Seniv family applied for a tourist visa - which is for three years, but they can apply to stay permanently once they arrive. For now, they are happy to be safe in Australia.
"It is a very different mentality between Ukraine and Australia," said Volodya. "I get the sense that Australians like their sport, they are more relaxed. They are very kind, good, sincere people who help. We were very well received and many people helped us, in particular the Ukrainian volunteers and local (Beaches) community. Such caring people!
"The more we see, the people in Australia are calmer and slower. They devote more time to each other. They are more involved with sports.
"We want to thank Sophie very much for the fact that they took in a stranger's family. It must not have been an easy decision and they help us in every way so we are very grateful for that."
For more information and resources, as well as how to host Ukrainian refugees, see ukrainians.org.au
Australian Red Cross is working with its Ukrainian Red Cross partner to assist people caught in the armed conflict: www.redcross.org.au/ukraine
GlobalGiving is a locally-led relief hub supporting a range of efforts in Ukraine: www.globalgiving.org/projects/ukraine-crisis-relief-fund
UNICEF has mobile aid workers on the ground in Ukraine delivering water, health and hygiene supplies to impacted areas with a focus on children and families: www.unicef.org
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