A UKRAINIAN couple staying at Kangaroo Flat with an Australian relative is appealing to the federal government to allow them to stay permanently.
Stefan and Halyna Nykyforuk, aged 45 and 41 respectively, were only one day from returning to Ukraine when they were informed that all men of conscription age (18 - 60) would be banned from leaving and would be required to defend the country from a Russian invasion.
The couple was working in Poland and was thrown a lifeline from Mr Nykyforuk's uncle Ray Slywka.
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"I said I could send them some air tickets and they could come and stay with me rather than go straight home to Ukraine," Mr Slwyka said.
"I have a spare ensuite bedroom and a car they can use."
The couple is extremely worried about their two sons, aged 22 and 18, who were at home when the invasion began and are still there.
Their 22-year-old son, Stefan junior, is a police officer and has been equipped with a machine gun and is fighting on the front line as Ukraine struggles for its future.
Stefan junior should be getting married but his wedding plans have been thrown into chaos and have been indefinitely postponed.
"They are very anxious about their children," Mr Slwyka said.
Mr and Ms Nykyforuk do not speak English but were able to meet others who have fled Ukraine at the Saints Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in North Melbourne. A special Easter mass was held for Ukrainians in Australia.
The couple is being assisted by the Association of Ukrainians in Victoria to have their tourist visas converted to something more stable and long term.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said since Russia had invaded Ukraine, the government had been progressing visa applications from Ukrainians as a priority, particularly those with Australian connections.
"Around 5000 mostly temporary visas have been granted to Ukrainians since February 23, 2022 and around 750 Ukrainians in this cohort have now arrived," he said last month.
Mr Slywka was born in the Ukraine and was a toddler when his parents migrated to Australia in 1949.
"My parents were displaced persons and they had no money," he said.
"The Australian government accepted them and paid their passage to Australia on the condition they would work on a farm at Myrtleford for two years to pay it back.
"So we did and Australia has been an excellent country. I'm retired now but I've done lots of things. I used to own a milk bar."
Mr and Ms Nykyforuk are currently working as fruit pickers at Harcourt to make ends meet.
Mr Slywka said he hoped his nephew and his family would be able to settle in Australia.
"People have been very supportive and welcoming of them," he said.
"I asked around about work and was told there was fruit picking and they're working very hard doing that.
"Their employer called me to ask if I had any more Ukrainians they could employ. There has been a lot of support for them in the community and it's been very encouraging."
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