Warrnambool's Andrew Womersley is emotional and still pinching himself that his Ukrainian-born son and his family have escaped the war-torn region and found safety in the south-west.
After a harrowing few months, Mr Womersley's son Andrii, 6, arrived in Warrnambool last week along with Andrii's mum Liudmyla, his brother Sasha, 16, and grandparents Viacheslav and Maryna.
Their home city, Melitopol, is now under Russian military occupation. It was the first Ukrainian city to be attacked by Russian forces when conflict began in February.
Mr Womersley has spent a lot of time in Ukraine, visiting about twice a year since 2014. He met Liudmyla there in 2015 and their son Andrii was born in 2016.
He also has business interests in the city and has developed a deep love for the people and its culture.
COVID border closures meant Mr Womersley spent almost five months in Ukraine last year after he'd travelled there on business in late July.
"I was in Melitopol," Mr Womersley said. "I've got an apartment there now and a car and the whole time I was there the Russian troops were on the border," he said.
He was there with Liudmyla in December when a trusted Russian source warned an attack was imminent.
Within an hour, Liudmyla had packed a bag and she and Andrii fled to Warsaw, Poland where older brother Sasha was at school.
"It was about December 14," Mr Womersley said. "There was word that things weren't quite right. Liudmyla and I talked and she said 'I think I'm going to get out of here' and I said 'Let's go'.
"So she and Andrii jumped on a train and five days later I flew home, back to Australia. I managed to get a flight out and then this has rolled on and it all unfolded."
On February 20, Andrii's grandmother Maryna travelled from Melitopol to Poland by train to spend a week celebrating Andrii's sixth birthday. But while she was there, Russia invaded Ukraine. That was on February 24 and she hasn't been home since.
"Liudmyla was able to get in contact with her dad," Mr Womersley said. "He frantically ran around and grabbed documents and jumped in his car and went north out of Melitopol as the tanks and troops were already coming across from the Crimean border into southern Ukraine," he said.
"He's left the house, gave the keys to the neighbour and it took him four days to cross the border into Poland. Two of those days he was in a line of 45 kilometres of cars waiting to cross the border.
Mr Womersley tried to transfer some funds for Viacheslav to buy fuel for his journey, but couldn't because the banks were shutting down. "He conserved the money he managed to get his hands on, just to buy fuel. Because it was winter time it was -2C to -4C," he said.
"Liudmyla waited at the Polish border for two days for her dad, sleeping in the car with Sasha," he said. She and her mum, before she went to the border, emptied out the refrigerator in the apartment, and went to the supermarket and bought bottled water and were handing it out to the people as they crossed the border.
After getting her dad safely across the Polish border, Liudmyla returned the following day and acted as a shuttle service for others pouring across the border on foot.
"So many women crossing the border had just said goodbye to their husbands or boyfriends because they weren't allowed to cross," he said.
"She said to see them dragging a suitcase with a baby in their arms across the border not knowing when they get to the other side thinking 'where do I stay? what do I do'?"
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The family all slept on the floor of the small, one-bedroom apartment in Warsaw until all their Australian visas were granted. They departed Poland together on March 30.
Liudmyla, an only child, said she would have been heartbroken without her parents and couldn't have travelled to Australia without them.
They left behind their family home, where the three generations lived together, and their car. Mr Strekalov also abandoned the truck and trailer he owned as part of his trucking company, which hauled grain.
Sasha said their neighbours were looking after the dog they had to leave behind, and their chickens were now helping to feed nearby residents.
"In my city, on our street, people don't have food and they are eating eggs from my chickens and potatoes and vegetables from our garden," Sasha said. "If they take that, no problem, they can eat."
"Many people visit our house and take and eat because they don't have food," Liudmyla added.
Mr Womersley said all the supermarkets were closed and it had been very difficult for residents to access food.
"In Melitopol, once the occupation changes from the government of Ukraine to now the government of Russia, to get people to accept the new changes, they're offered a Russian passport. If you accept the passport you will be given food," he said.
"If you don't want to take the passport, you don't have food or internet," Liudmyla said.
Mr Womersley is thankful his young family was already in Poland when the conflict began.
He said fortunately because of this, Andrii had not experienced the devastation first-hand, only what he'd seen on the television news just like many others around the world.
Mr Womersley said his other Ukrainian friends who had also been told in December about the threat of a military attack had dismissed it as "just nonsense, propaganda".
"When it actually happened I couldn't believe it," Mr Womersley said. "Nor could I believe how quick it happened," he said.
"Within hours there were 86 destination sites in Ukraine that were hit with cruise missiles, one of those sites was within a kilometre of the family home in Melitopol, which is a military air force base.
"Three missiles hit it and the fact that all of a sudden all over Ukraine was hit. It was 'what is going on here'?"
Mr Womersley said he didn't need to watch the news to see what was happening in Ukraine as he had friends calling him via videolink from Kyiv, showing him the devastation first hand.
He said his friend in Ukraine had asked him to look after his wife and young daughter if anything happened to him in the conflict, and was something he has promised to do.
The family is grateful to be in Australia together, filling Mr Womersley's four-bedroom home to the brim and adding little touches to make it feel like home.
"I know they're happy here, they feel safe and relaxed," he said. "They're a little bit shocked because it all happened quickly and all of a sudden they're in Australia.
"They miss their usual. They're not people who have travelled. For Viacheslav it was the first time he'd been on an aeroplane in his life.
"There's a fair bit of grief associated with it. As Liudmyla's mum said 'I went (to Poland) for a birthday and now I'm in Australia'."
Both the boys are enrolled to start school in Warrnambool in term two.
Sasha said it felt really good being in Australia and he wasn't sad to leave. "We are all happy," Sasha said. "It's better here. It's very beautiful. We have good food and a good home."
They are the second Ukrainian family to arrive in Warrnambool, with a couple aged in their 60s fleeing from the city of Mykolaiv.
Mr Womersley is grateful the Australian government has accepted Ukrainians caught up in the crisis.
The family is now waiting to apply for the humanitarian (subclass 786) visa for Ukrainian temporary visa holders, which will allow them to work and study.
"I'm really pleased with what the immigration department is doing to enable this to happen," Mr Womersley said.
"I'm thrilled to have them here and I'm very privileged that I can afford to do it and I was able to do it."
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