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Celebrating our Ukrainian refugees

To mark Refugee Week and its theme this year – Finding Freedom – TAFE Queensland East Coast is proud to recognise and celebrate the contributions and hard work of all of our refugee students.

More than a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 which triggered a flood of devastation, destruction and refugees, the spirit and courage of the Ukrainian people remains strong and undiminished.

If anything, the resolve of the Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in Queensland has only strengthened and morphed into something more resolute – the will to start over and rebuild their lives in new places that are often completely foreign to what they have known.

To mark Refugee Week and its theme this year – Finding Freedom – TAFE Queensland East Coast is proud to recognise and celebrate the contributions and hard work of all of our refugee students.

Nowhere is their strength and spirit better seen than the way in which our Ukrainian refugee students have gone about settling into their newly adopted Aussie life on the Sunshine and Fraser Coasts, by learning the English language.

Through TAFE Queensland’s delivery of the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) which provides free and basic English language classes to help migrants and refugees settle into their new life in Australia, Tania Onisko, Golyna Viatkha, and Angela and Alex Starchenko are showing that you’re never too old or young to start over and learn new skills.

Whether you want to improve your English language skills for living, working or studying in Australia, the AMEP offers different classes to suit students’ needs so they can choose from pre-employment English, social English or youth English.

Tania, 71, was a university lecturer teaching ecology, water and energy when Russia invaded her country and forced her to leave Ukraine last year.

She now lives with her youngest daughter on the Sunshine Coast and has been enjoying studying English for the past eight months.

“I like living in Australia and would like to volunteer at TAFE Queensland one day,” Tania said.

Like Tania, 66 year-old Golyna Viatkha, was also forced to give up her job of working at a university and flee her beloved home country with her grandchild and daughter-in-law in March 2022 while her son remained behind to fight as a soldier for Ukraine.

Golyna now lives on the Sunshine Coast and though she misses Ukraine dearly, she finds comfort and solace in her love of painting.

“I very much miss Ukraine and my heart stays there but Australia is now my second life and second country,” Golyna said.

What Golyna most appreciates about her new life in Australia are the simple things; being able to sit on the beach, getting to know the Australian people, and having the opportunity to talk to anyone.

Golyna dreams of a future where she can speak better English and paint more pictures but for now, she’s taking each day as it comes.

As parents to an 11-year-old son, Angela and Alex were left with little choice but to leave Ukraine with their child to seek refuge, safety and a better future elsewhere.

The Starchenkos chose Queensland after falling in love with Australia during their first visit four years ago and are now happily settling into their new lives in Hervey Bay where their son attends a local school.

“The people here are friendly, helpful and funny, and there’s beautiful nature, orange sunsets and a variety of birds and animals,” Angela said.

Apart from adapting to their new home country, the Starchenkos’ goal is to one day build and run their own hotel.

Despite the current challenges of speaking little English and having to rebuild their lives, Angela and Alex are determined to achieve this dream in their future.

TAFE Queensland General Manager (East Coast region), Ana Rodger, said she was moved and inspired by the resilience and bravery of the Ukrainian refugee students.

“The incredible courage and tenacity of Tania, Golyna, Angela and Alex in being able to pick up the pieces of their lives and start over again given the traumatic situation from which they’ve been forced to flee, speaks volumes about their character and sheer determination,” Ana said.

“I find their stories incredibly powerful and moving and I’m so proud of the commitment and efforts of our teachers who provide all of our refugee and immigrant students with valuable support and encouragement tirelessly and through our AMEP program.

“These students come to Australia often under very challenging circumstances and to see them gaining a renewed purpose in their lives and thriving by learning a new language or skill in a supportive and caring environment is immensely positive and inspirational.”