Hello, my name is Olena and I’m Ukrainian.
A Russian speaking Ukrainian living in Australia.
Today I’m here to share a story how the war that’s seems to be miles away is touching lives of people who surround you. I’ll share the stories that you may not find in media. And I’ll share the stories about amazing Australians who help and support the people of Ukraine.
I was born in Soviet Union, grew up in Ukraine, which only became independent when I was 6. So we were growing together, learning together, understanding that things like language, financial independence, choosing friends don’t come naturally to neither of us.
My mum was Russian, my dad was half Belarusian, so having a mix of Eastern European bloods, it’s hard for me to come with the terms of everything happening today in my homeland.
I moved to Australia when I was 26. 12 years ago. Long enough to feel comfortable and homie in my new country, but short not to feel the pain of the wounds my motherland is experiencing right now.
If you know me, or if you look at me right now you may ask – so what are you doing here?
Today I’d like to share it is to be a Ukrainian in Australia, when theoretically everything is good in my life – I have a roof above my head, my husband and kids are safe, my business is successful.
I travel, catch up with my friends, attend conferences and cook dinner.
But at the same time there is another life I’m currently living, the life that every Ukrainian, no matter where they’re located are living.
And this life is full of trauma, horror, worrying about my family and friends, life of endless “How are you? We’re alive”. This life if full of feelings of frustration, loneliness, sadness, worry.
And the life full of guilt. The guilt you can’t be there to support. The guilt you can’t do more. The guilt you’re so far away, you escaped. The survivor guilt.
Every morning every Ukrainian starts with checking the news. It’s a night time in Kiev when we wake up, so we check how everything is going before we reach out to our family.
We wish them goodnight and we’re back to our ‘normal’ life, back to work where we’re trying to be inspiring, generate new ideas, be creative and productive.
Around 4pm the cycle stats again. 4pm it’s the time when our family wakes up, get out of their shelters, we regain connections with them. If we’re lucky.
Sometimes we hear the sounds of sirens on the phone, sometimes we watch horrific videos of bombing via social media.
Technology makes the war too close. It makes it possible for each of us to see and hear war in real time. It makes us witnesses. Make us live through the horror together with people who are experiencing the war.
At times it becomes overwhelming. It becomes depressing. Sometimes we make a choice to switch off, to go to a digital detox. But then we feel the guilt again.
And it’s the everyday choice - to close your eyes to somehow preserve yourself, or to open them to remain human.
The unseen victims of the wars.
It’ll be a while before we find out the scale of the Russian invasion. Maybe we’ll never find out. But even now it’s clear the official numbers don’t show the real impact.
There are thousands of unseen victims of the war. In every war.
My cousin Tanya works as a chemotherapy specialist in Kiev. She was one of three specialists who did chemo in March. She left her home to go to work on February 24, and she came back home at the beginning of April, it was not safe for her to travel from the hospital home and she couldn’t leave her patients.
In Kiev chemotherapy was mainly paused for a month, and was provided to a very limited amount of people of very severe cases. Only to up to 15 people a day in almost a 3 million city. Will we ever find the numbers of the effect this had on all cancer patients in the region?
I believe Tanya is the remarkable woman. I invited her to give an interview to SBS radio and she refused. She said “I don’t do anything special, Olena. There are so many incredible people here”.
Ukrainians are incredible.
A mother of my schoolfriend died from heart attack in the first days of war. Her heart didn’t take the amount of stress.
Will she ever be included in the death toll of this war? No. But she is a victim of this war. Same as her grandchildren, who lost their grandmother so early.
The neighbours in the apartment block I spent my childhood in, got covid in the first days of war. They were all sick in the cold and dark basement during everyday bombing that was happening in Kiev in March. One of the neighbours died from covid in hospital later. Is she a victim of this war? We’ll never find out.
These are just a few examples of people I personally know. But as you can imagine there are thousands and thousands of people who died without medications, kids who burned from high fever in Mariupol, elderly people
And a huge, painful, bleeding group – women and children. What we see in every war - men who fight and die are honored as heroes, monuments are erected to them.
What we mostly hear about women and children is that they are being evacuated, provided shelters and supported in every country. The inconvenient part of the news reports is the ugly side of any war, where women and children are used by soldiers for the demonstration of hatred, for revenge, for symbolism of power above the enemy.
Sexual assault, human trafficking are reported widely not only in cities like Bucha, but everywhere around Ukraine, including on the border with Poland and Romania, where women fled to be safe.
Sexual assault is only an instrument of a war. Raped and murdered women are not listed as heroes. Those who survive carry their humiliation with them.
And the last, but not the least group of unseen heros are suicides. The war hasn’t ended and we don’t know when it ends. But what we know for sure, we’ll be hearing the echo of the war for a long time after in the unspoken stories of men, women and children of the war who decided not to cope with the pain anymore.
How can you help?
If you’re here, it means you’re not indifferent to the story of my country. If you’re here, it means, the painful and tragic stories you’ve heard and seen resonated with you.
A natural, human response to someones pain is a desire to help. And I can tell you - helping helps. Helping, donating, volunteering, supporting, engaging heals your soul.