Refugee Week 2023: Denys’s Journey Finding Freedom
In a world where conflict and persecution force millions of people to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere, World Refugee Week stands as a powerful reminder of the strength and courage exhibited by refugees. It is a week dedicated to celebrating their resilience and understanding their unique journey towards a life of safety in their new communities where they start new lives.
The theme of Refugee Week 2023, Finding Freedom, explores the concept of freedom and what it means to be free, including living without fear, having basic human rights upheld, and living without fear of persecution. Finding Freedom honours the perilous journeys and brave decisions that millions undertake in search of safety and freedom, where they can live, love and dream again.
To understand the sacrifices, challenges and decisions a refugee experiences, we interviewed our Advanced English student Denys Levchenko, who left the life he built in Ukraine to secure the safety of his family.
As a doctor working in a nuclear company's emergency department, Denys had a stable and fulfilling career.
However, when the war with Russia intensified, his priorities shifted from professional success to the safety and well-being of his family. It began when Denys received a call from his boss, instructing him to stay home for five days due to the mounting conflict. Little did he know that this would be the beginning of a tumultuous journey.
Just five days later, Denys received another message from his boss, "Pick up your family and leave. It is not safe here."
Denys understood the severity of the situation. Accepting the imminent danger, Denys promptly gathered his family, picking up his wife, daughter, mother-in-law, and nephew to leave the country. Alongside his wife and mother in-law, Denys needed to ensure the safety of his precious 9-year-old daughter and his 16-year-old nephew, which he became the legal guardian of after his sister sadly died in 2016. With a heavy heart, he bid farewell to his career, his home, and everything familiar. Family came first, and all Denys could think of was keeping them safe.
Their escape initially took them first to the Czech Republic, where Denys sought solace in the companionship of a friend. It provided a temporary respite, a brief interlude amidst the chaos. However, the desire for a more permanent sense of security led them to set their sights on Australia, where Denys's wife's sister resided.
A New Beginning in Australia
In May 2022, Denys and his family arrived in Australia. Filled with a mix of trepidation and anticipation, they had begun a journey of adaptation, resilience, and the pursuit of a brighter future. Leaving behind the turmoil of their homeland, they embraced the opportunities that this diverse and welcoming country had to offer.
Denys daughter, a resilient nine-year-old on the cusp of turning ten, faced the obvious challenges of acclimating to a new country, with a new culture, and language. The initial days at school were met with tears, as she struggled to comprehend the unfamiliar language and navigate the overwhelming environment. However, as time passed, she began to embrace her new surroundings, slowly making new friends and learning English, to the point she pronounces words better than Denys himself.
However, Denys’s nephew struggled to adjust and didn’t like Australia at all, after six months he vanished. Denys later found out he caught a flight on his own and returned to Ukraine to be with his girlfriend and friends. Despite the challenges and the distance between them, Denys continues to make efforts to contact his nephew. Though his calls go unanswered Denys knows his nephew is currently okay as his grandmother living in the Czech Republic has spoken to him.
While Denys had been a doctor in Ukraine, circumstances led him to explore different avenues in Australia. Initially, he found work in a construction company, but it was through chance encounters with fellow Ukrainians that he discovered a new path. They introduced him to the field of aged care, recognising his skills and expertise in healthcare. Denys soon found himself working as an aged care worker ironically for the Russian Relief Association, a role that allowed him to connect with former Russians citizens and Russian speakers. Denys says they are very understanding and sympathetic about his position, condemning the war.
Although Denys appreciates the understanding and support he receives from his colleagues, he is determined to pursue his ultimate goal of becoming a doctor once again. He recognises that his qualifications and experience exceed his current role, and he aspires to contribute his skills to the medical field in Australia. To achieve this, Denys is actively working on improving his English proficiency, an essential step towards realising his dream. His wife, too, is dedicated to enhancing her language skills, enrolling in an Advanced English course at the Macquarie Community College. Together, they strive to overcome language barriers and embrace new opportunities.
Denys expresses his deep appreciation for Australia and the opportunities it has provided. He is drawn to Australia's multiculturalism, recognising how it fosters the exchange of ideas and perspectives, leading to the creation of new ideas.
Denys and his wife embrace a broader sense of identity as citizens of planet Earth, believing in the importance of caring for one another and our planet. They emphasise the universal nature of human needs: food, shelter, clothing, and the bond of family. Denys, having witnessed the fragility of life as a doctor, understands that we cannot take tomorrow for granted.
His experiences have instilled in him a profound gratitude for life and the present moment. He urges us to cherish each day and strive for peace, emphasising the unpredictability of life and the need to live together harmoniously.
Denys's final message serves as a reminder to embrace our shared humanity, care for one another, and appreciate the preciousness of life as we journey towards a future of peace and unity.