Kateryna Argyrou on the current challenges facing Ukrainians

Kateryna Argyrou was born in Ukraine, spent her childhood in Canada, and moved to Australia 10 years ago. She graduated with honours from George Washington University and the London School of Economics. She is currently an investment analyst at Maple-Brown Abbott (MBA), and volunteers as the Co-Chair of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations (AFUO) and a Co-Founder and NSW Representative of the Australian-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce (AUCC).

The reason I am here today is because of my connection to Ukraine and the Ukrainian community in Australian. Outside of my professional work, I dedicate my time to the Ukrainian community and Co-Chair the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations (AFUO) and am a Co-Founder of the Australia-Ukraine Chamber of Commerce (AUCC).

My story is one of humble beginnings – I was born in Dubliany, a small town of 9,000 people on the outskirts of L’viv, a city in Western Ukraine that close to the Polish border.

I was raised by my grandmother and lived with 7 other people in an old Soviet apartment that was a 4th floor walk-up. There was no running water and central heating that sometimes didn’t get turned on until the middle of winter (when it reached -15 degrees). 

We had to bring water home in metal buckets that we would fill from a nearby well. I attended 1st grade at the local elementary school and am the only person from that class who moved to another country.

My life changed drastically when I moved to Canada – that’s where I learned to speak English and was exposed to a completely different way of life. I went on to study in the US & UK before meeting the love of my life and moving to Sydney 10 years ago. When I took my now husband back to my hometown, it was worlds away from where I am now and where I started.

I currently work as an investment analyst for an Australian funds management company – we have about $12bn of funds under management and I am responsible for the real estate portfolio. 

I graduated from university during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and started my career during the most depressed employment market of my generation.

Despite the hundreds of applications and rejection letters, I managed to score an internship with Nomura, a Japanese investment bank, in London. That was my path into finance.

Since that time, I worked for stockbrokers in Sydney and prior to my current role, I headed up the Real Estate Equities Research Team at Credit Suisse, a Swiss investment bank.

One thing that my career path has taught me is that “if there is a will, there is a way”. I am naturally a very optimistic person and do not like to take no for an answer – I am very much of the view that “if you fail, try again!” Be it an internship opportunity, a promotion at work, or taking on new and bigger responsibilities.

That brings me to my current purpose in life – to help stop the WAR in Ukraine.

My entire family is currently in the line of fire of Russian missiles, tanks, and heavy artillery.

Every morning begins with checking if my family is alive – it’s the worst and most heart-wrenching feeling in the world.

My grandparents are holed up on the 13th floor of an apartment building in Kyiv, with no electricity, no food, no running water. They rely on volunteers and their neighbours to survive.

My mother relocated from Kyiv to L’viv in order to continue her work remotely. L’viv on average has 3-4 air strike warnings per day where people need to take cover in basements.

My aunts, uncles and cousins have either taken up arms or are volunteering and are helping unlock humanitarian trucks.

All of them live in a state of terror. Every day. The war crimes that are being committed by the Russian armed forces are shocking, atrocious and nothing short of inhumane. Rape, mass shootings, children being mutilated, innocent civilians killed in acts of genocide. 

A lot of what drives me and fuels my community involvement comes down to one person that had a profound impact on me – and that’s my grandmother Sofia. She was fiercely patriotic and spent her life fighting for a free Ukraine – for her efforts she was thrown into jail and shipped off to a Soviet labour camp in Kazakhstan where she was tortured and treated extremely poorly, but she did not give in.

My grandmother played a powerful role in my life and raised me to stand up for Ukraine, for its values, and to never give in to an oppressor.

A lot of the things that I am doing in Australia and what I did in Canada, the US, UK, being involved with the Ukrainian community - the root of all of that for me is really my grandmother's efforts, her fight for freedom and the legacy that she left behind.

I am trying to pay respect to that legacy and continue the fight that she started.