Ukrainian families who were forced to uproot their lives and flee a war zone have since resettled in Perth and on Thursday got the chance to meet Perth Zoo’s friendly wildlife for the first time.
As part of Refugee Week, Red Cross took Ukrainian refugees who recently arrived in Australia on a day out to the zoo for a chance to escape the horrors and heartbreak taking place in Ukraine since the Russian invasion on February 24.
Anna Bilous, 32, and her nine-year-old daughter Yeva were forced to evacuate their home near Luhansk region of Ukraine and flee to the safety of Perth where they reunited with family.
Arriving on April 16, Ms Bilous reconciled with her mother Tetiana Marinov at her Armadale home where she has lived for more than a decade after she also fled when the conflict in Ukraine first broke out in 2014.
In an emotional interview, Ms Bilous spoke of the extremely difficult situation her family faced trying to escape a war zone.
“It was very difficult, we’d go to the basement to seek refuge from all the rockets, (the Russians) wanted to take oil supplies, so they’d bomb us,” she said.
“The school (my daughter went to) was blown up. We weren’t at home, we were seeking refuge at a friend’s house with five kids and five adults… a gas line almost blew up our house but a man saved it and the windows shattered because of the explosions.”
For the mother and daughter, it was the first time they’d seen some of WA’s wildlife up close where they could interact with kangaroos and wallabies.
They were joined by Ms Bilous’ 76-year-old grandmother Liudmyla Kovalchuk and her 17-year-old sister Yeva Prozerska, who translated for the family.
Young Yeva said she enjoyed seeing the “tigers, elephants and dingoes”.
Mother-of-five Lesya Yezhor made the journey from Lviv with her husband three months ago.
“We are very happy Red Cross organised this whole trip and with the kids, it was very nice,” she said.
Ms Yezhor said despite being safe here it was “scary” not knowing what was happening in Ukraine.
“We are very glad for the Australian Government letting us come here and helping others come here and be safe,” she said.
“The kids are very happy but we hope we can go back to our homeland because our heart is there.”
Red Cross state lead for migration Liza Beinart said Thursday’s outing was part of a humanitarian program helping refugees settle into life here.
“After local consultations with other Ukrainian community members, we realised that the new arrivals were really keen to see a kangaroo up close, so we are grateful to the zoo staff and animals for giving them a warm welcome,” she said.
“This was a chance for them to not think about some of things they’ve been through.”
According to the Red Cross about 330 Ukrainians have resettled in WA since February.