Ukrainians Lidiia and Oleksandr among hundreds granted three-year protection visas and now looking to the future

Two days before Oleksandr locked the door to his apartment for what may be the last time, he suffered a heart attack.

The 61-year-old taxi driver and his wife, Lidiia, had just made the devastating decision to leave their lives and home in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa, and make their way by train, ferry, bus, plane and finally car to safety. 

Lidiia’s daughter Olena had moved to the other side of the world 10 years earlier, marrying a police officer from Australia’s Northern Territory.

Today Olena sits at their kitchen table on the outskirts of Darwin, her husband Ben and daughter Eva by her side, translating for her mother and stepfather.

The leftovers of a welcome hamper delivered by a neighbour sit on the table, complete with Ukrainian flag.

A man and woman sitting at a table. She rests her chin on her hand, they both are looking out of shot
Lidiia and Oleksandr arrived in the Top End with only a bag each of winter clothes, but have the support of Lidiia’s daughter.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

The war recently passed the 100-day mark but the shock has not worn off. 

“Air attacks were going on 24 hours, day and night,” Lidiia recalls.

“From the moment the war started, from when Ukraine was invaded, we started to talk about ways to escape.”

The couple are among the small but now fast-growing number of Ukrainians granted three years of protection in Australia at the end of a long and heartbreaking journey. 

More than 8,000 visas granted since February

On the day of their escape, Lidiia and Oleksandr made it to Odesa’s central train station only just in time for the first government-organised evacuation train to Romania.

A wall of sandbags lined up on a street with a blue and yellow flag.
Preparations for an attack on Odesa — strategically important as a port city in southern Ukraine — started soon after the invasion began.(ABC News: Tom Joyner)

Having had heart surgery the day before, Oleksandr was advised he was not allowed to drive but that he could take a train and fly to Australia, a journey that would end up taking six days.

Olena and Ben were coordinating the evacuation from Darwin (“on Skype every 15 minutes”) and, at the last minute, ditched a plan to pay a driver for a ride to Romania, worried the older couple would end up “in a village with no internet, no money, stuck.”

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